Dysrhythmia

Dysrhythmia is an abnormality in the heart’s beat, or rhythm. It is caused by electrical impulses that aren’t working properly. The heart can beat irregularly, too slowly (bradycardia) or too quickly (tachycardia).

Bradycardia is when the heart has a very slow rate, usually less than 60 beats per minute. It happens when the heart’s natural pacemaker, the sinus node, doesn’t form correctly and doesn’t signal the heart to contract (sinus node dysfunction). It also can happen when electrical impulses are not sent to the heart’s ventricles in the right order, or do not reach the ventricles for various reasons.

Tachycardia is a very fast heart rate, more than 100 beats per minute for adults, but even higher than 200 beats per minute for infants and children. There are many different forms of tachycardia. Ventricular tachycardia is a rapid heart rate that starts in the ventricles. Supraventricular tachycardia — when the atria beat 150 to 250 times per minute — starts above the ventricles.

The cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons with Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine — the leading providers of pediatric heart care in Louisville and Southern Indiana — have been treating pediatric dysrhythmia for decades and can help your child.

The board-certified and fellowship-trained specialists at Norton Children’s Heart Institute have the skill and experience to provide a pinpoint diagnosis and develop a customized treatment plan for you and your child.

Norton Children’s has a network of outreach diagnostic and treatment services conveniently located throughout Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

Dysrhythmia Symptoms

Some describe the feeling of an irregular heart rhythm as the heart fluttering, racing or skipping a beat. Other symptoms can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating

Some people have no symptoms and are surprised when a doctor detects a dysrhythmia.

Dysrhythmia happens when electrical signals don’t “communicate” properly with the heart muscle, causing the heart to beat in an abnormal rhythm.

Diagnosing Dysrhythmia

A physical exam and family history can help physicians find dysrhythmia. If the heart exam finds an issue, there may be a defect in the heart structure that is causing the dysrhythmia.

The physician may examine your child’s heart function using an echocardiogram. Norton Children’s Heart Institute has 28 tele-echo locations throughout Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

Your child may be given a Holter monitor, a portable monitor that records heart rhythm for 24 hours or longer in order to help diagnose dysrhythmia. If thought to be helpful, your child may also have an exercise test to help with the diagnosis.

If your child is fainting and has a very fast heartbeat, it could indicate ventricular tachycardia. If your doctor thinks your child may have ventricular tachycardia, your child may need to visit the pediatric catheterization lab. Cardiologists there can induce a rapid heartbeat under monitored, controlled conditions and find a solution to your condition.

Dysrhythmia Treatments

Medications

Dysrhythmia, especially tachycardia, can be helped with medications. Several drugs are available, but they are not a cure. The medications are used to treat symptoms by helping to slow the heart rate. Your child may need to try different medications before the right one is found to treat the symptoms.

Procedures

When a dysrhythmia significantly interferes with a child’s life or is life-threatening, it can be treated with surgery or other procedures. For a slow heart rate, such as a heart block or bradycardia, a pacemaker may be required. A pacemaker is a small device that’s connected to the heart through a thin wire. It sends small, painless amounts of electricity to the heart to make it beat the way it should.

Some tachycardias may require a permanent treatment such as ablation. During this procedure, several catheters are placed in the heart, with one placed over the spot that is causing the tachycardia. The tip of the catheter is cooled or heated, altering that area in a way that stops electrical current from passing through the tissue.

Why Choose Norton Children’s Heart Institute

The Adult Congenital Heart Association has recognized Norton Children's Heart Institute for its expertise treating adult congenital heart disease.

  • Norton Children’s Hospital has been a pioneer in pediatric cardiothoracic surgery, performing Kentucky’s first pediatric heart transplant in 1986 and becoming the second site in the United States to perform an infant heart transplant.
  • The American Board of Thoracic Surgery has certified our cardiothoracic surgeons in congenital heart surgery.
  • The Adult Congenital Heart Association has accredited Norton Children’s Heart Institute’s Adult Congenital Heart Program as the only comprehensive care center in Kentucky and Indiana treating adults born with a heart defect.
  • More than 5,000 children a year visit Norton Children’s Heart Institute for advanced heart care.
  • Norton Children’s Heart Institute has offices across Kentucky and Southern Indiana to bring quality pediatric heart care closer to home.
  • The Jennifer Lawrence Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) at Norton Children’s Hospital is the largest dedicated CICU in Kentucky, equipped with 17 private rooms and the newest technology available for heart care.
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