AFib in Children
Does your child have atrial fibrillation (AF or AFib)?
Atrial fibrillation is very rare in children. The symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments are much the same as in an adult.
Normal heart rate in children varies according to the age of the child. In an infant, the heart beats about 140 times per minute. 70 beats per minute is normal for an older child.
The AFib heart in a child functions similarly to the AFib heart in an adult, with multiple electrical signals firing from various locations in or around the heart causing the atria to fibrillate, or “quiver.” This, in turn, causes the ventricles to contract at an abnormal rate and less effectively.
Your child may not be able to describe what they are feeling during an episode of AFib. Sometimes they do not experience any symptoms at all. It is important to visit your child’s healthcare provider if your child displays any of these symptoms:
- Weakness or fatigue; tiring easily with exercise
- Pounding, pain or pressure in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Fainting or lightheadedness
Your doctor may order one or more of the following tests:
- Electrocardiogram (also called an EKG or ECG) — this is a noninvasive test used to view and record the electrical patterns of the heart.
- Electrophysiology (EP) study — a small, thin catheter (or wire) is inserted through a vein into the heart. This will allow doctors to locate the sites that are causing the arrhythmias.
- Stress test — a test that shows how the heart is functioning during exercise.
- Heart monitors — these are small monitors that are worn by the child from anywhere from 24 hours to one month. They are used to detect any abnormal heart rhythms.
Several different treatments are available and are determined by the results of diagnostic testing.
- Medications can be used to control heart rate and rhythm.
- Cardioversion is used if medication is not effective. In this procedure, an electric shock is delivered to the heart in an attempt to convert the heartbeat to a normal rhythm. This is performed under mild sedation.
- Catheter ablation is rarely used in children. A small, flexible catheter (or tube) is inserted into a vein or artery and is gently guided into the heart. The source of the arrhythmia is located and the tissue that is sending the multiple signals is then destroyed. Patients are usually able to leave the hospital within 24 hours.
- Some studies show possible links to heredity, while others attribute childhood AF to congenital heart abnormalities or post-surgical complications.
Atrial fibrillation in children is usually treatable and manageable with medication. Please see your pediatrician if you suspect that your child has atrial fibrillation. As with adults, the risk of stroke or pulmonary embolism is increased if your child has been diagnosed with this condition.