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Arrhythmia in children also is called an irregular heartbeat. Both terms describe an abnormal heart rhythm. Most arrhythmias are caused by an electrical “short circuit” in the heart.
The heart normally beats in a consistent pattern, but an arrhythmia can make it beat too slowly, too quickly or irregularly. This uneven pumping activity can lead to a variety of symptoms, including fatigue, dizziness and chest pain.
Many arrhythmias don’t need medical care, but some can cause health issues and need to be evaluated and treated by a doctor.
At Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, electrophysiologists work closely with specially trained nurses and technicians in the electrophysiology laboratory to fully evaluate, treat and often cure irregular heartbeat in children.
A unique electrical system in the heart causes it to beat in its regular rhythm. The electrical signals start from a group of cells located in the right atrium. This area is called the sinus node. The sinus node acts as the heart’s natural pacemaker, making sure the heart beats at a steady rate most of the time. The sinus node will speed up the heart rate in response to things like exercise, emotions and stress, and slow the heart rate during sleep.
Sometimes the electrical signals don’t communicate properly with the heart muscle, and the heart can start beating in an abnormal rhythm — this is an arrhythmia.
Irregular heartbeat in children can be caused by:
Arrhythmias can be temporary or permanent. Irregular heartbeat in children can be congenital (present at birth) or develop later in life.
The heart rate is the number of heart beats per minute. A “normal” heart rate differs depending on age and lifestyle and other factors.
The resting heart rate — how fast the heart beats when a person is not engaged in activity — decreases as children get older. Typical resting heart rate ranges are:
A doctor can determine whether a heart rate is abnormally fast or slow, depending on a person’s situation. An older child or adult with a slow heart rate, for example, might have symptoms when the heart rate drops below 50 beats per minute. Trained athletes usually have a lower resting heart rate, so a slow heart rate for them isn’t considered abnormal if it doesn’t cause symptoms.
Arrhythmias make the heart beat less effectively, interrupting blood flow to the brain and the rest of the body. When the heart beats too fast, its chambers can’t fill with enough blood. When it beats too slowly or irregularly, it can’t pump enough blood out to the body.
If the body doesn’t get the supply of blood it needs to run smoothly, a person might have:
Arrhythmias can be constant, but most come and go at random. Some cause no noticeable symptoms. In these cases, the arrhythmia may be found only during a physical examination or heart function test.
There are several types of arrhythmias, including:
Doctors use several tools to diagnose arrhythmias. It’s very important to know a child’s medical history and give this information to the doctor. The doctor will use the medical history and a physical exam to begin the evaluation. Your doctor may order an electrocardiogram (EKG), a test that measures the heart’s electrical activity. For this painless test, the child will lie down and have electrodes attached to the skin with sticky papers. The electrodes have wires attached to them, which connect to the EKG machine. The EKG records electrical signals from the heart. These types of EKG tests might be recommended:
Many arrhythmias don’t need treatment. For those that do, the electrophysiology laboratory at Norton Children’s Hospital has state-of-the-art technology for our electrophysiology cardiologists to treat arrhythmias. These options might be used: