Conditions + Treatments

Arrhythmias in Children

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What is an arrhythmia?

An arrhythmia is an abnormal rhythm of the heart, which can cause the heart to pump less effectively. It most frequently occurs in adults and often people who don’t have underlying heart disease. 

Some arrhythmias are benign (not dangerous), while others may be life threatening. There are different ways of classifying arrhythmias, which can be described based on where within the heart the arrhythmia originates (that is, in the atria or top chambers of the heart, or in the ventricles or bottom chambers of the heart) or whether the arrhythmia is related to the heart beat being too fast (tachyarrhythmia), too slow (bradyarrhythmia), and whether the beat is regular or irregular (fibrillation).

What is an atrial arrhythmia?

An atrial arrhythmia is an abnormality that occurs in one of the two upper chambers of the heart, the left or right atrium. It is caused by abnormal function of the sinus node or the atrioventricular node. There are different types of atrial arrhythmias.

Sinus arrhythmia

  • heart rate varies with breathing
  • commonly found in children
  • usually a benign condition typically no associated symptoms or problems

Sinus tachycardia

  • heart rate is faster than normal
  • may cause symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, dizziness or palpitations
  • often temporary, occurring when the body is under stress from exercise, strong emotions, fever or dehydration
  • Once the stress is removed, the heart rate will return to its usual rate.

Sick sinus syndrome

  • sinus node sends out electrical signals either too slowly or too fast

Premature supraventricular contractions 

  • also called premature atrial contractions (PAC)
  • sinus node or another pacemaker site above the ventricles sends out an electrical signal early

Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) 

  • also called paroxysmal atrial tachycardia (PAT)
  • heart rate speeds up due to a series of early beats from the sinus node or another pacemaker site above the ventricles
  • may cause symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, dizziness, fainting or palpitations if the heart rate becomes too fast.

Atrial flutter

  • electrical signals come from the atria at a fast but regular rate, causing the ventricles to contract faster and increase the heart rate

Atrial fibrillation

  • electrical signals come from the atria at a very fast and erratic rate

What is a ventricular arrhythmia

A ventricular arrhythmia occurs in the two lower chambers of the heart called the ventricles. It is caused by an interruption in the electrical conduction pathways, or the development of another area within the heart tissue that takes over the function of the sinus node.

Types ventricular arrhythmias include:

Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs)

  • Electrical signal originates in the ventricles and causes the ventricles to contract before receiving the electrical signal from the atria.
  • They are common and often don’t cause symptoms or problems.
  • In some cases, they may cause symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, dizziness, fainting or palpitations.

Ventricular tachycardia (VT)

  • Life-threatening condition where an electrical signal is sent from the ventricles at a very fast but even rate.
  • It may cause symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, dizziness, fainting or palpitations.

Ventricular fibrillation (VF)

  • An electrical signal is sent from the ventricles at a very fast and erratic rate.
  • It may cause very low blood pressure and symptoms such as weakness, dizziness, fainting or loss of consciousness.
  • A person in VT may require an electric shock or medications to convert the rhythm to back normal sinus rhythm.

Care for arrhythmias

The Electrophysiology Service at Boston Children’s specializes in diagnosing and treating heart arrhythmias in kids and young adults. Our program is one of the largest and most experienced in the country and we treat more patients with congenital heart problems than any other hospital in the world. We perform more than 400 electrophysiology procedures annually.

We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital
300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115
For Patients: 617-355-6000
For Referring Providers: 844-BCH-PEDS | 844-224-7337

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