An arrhythmia refers to any change or distortion in the regular rhythm of one’s heartbeat, and while most of these are harmless, some of these can be serious, even life-threatening. Most arrhythmias that occur in children are isolated incidents, and can be dealt with by treating the problem that causes the sensation, like fever. Children may report irregularity of their heartbeat as a feeling of ‘fluttering’.
A child with arrhythmia can experience excessively slow or fast beating of the heart, or their heart could have extra beats or even skip beats. It can arise from heart defects or in response to external illnesses like infections, fevers, etc. If your child’s heart beats too fast (tachycardia) or too slow (bradycardia), it could affect the ability of the heart to pump adequate amounts of blood to the rest of the body, causing serious damage to vital organs like the brain, liver or kidneys.
Recognising arrhythmia symptoms depend on the maturity and age of your child. Older children may be able to report feelings of lightheadedness or their heart fluttering and skipping beats. In case of toddlers or infants, parents may notice irritability, pale skin, etc. Other common symptoms to look out for are weakness, palpitations, sweating and shortness of breath, and pauses between heartbeats.
Treatment for these fluttering symptoms depend on the age of the child and the cause behind the symptoms. Some popularly used techniques are medication, cardioversion where small amounts of electric current are used to shock the heart and convert irregular beats to a normal rhythm, radio frequency ablation which makes use of a cardiac catheterisation and involves radio energy to heat and kill the tissue causing arrhythmia, or implantable devices like pacemakers which use electric pulses to control heart rhythm, or implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD’s) which use small shocks to control life threatening arrhythmias. In a few cases, surgical procedure called maze surgery is used to treat atrial fibrillation.
In many cases, heart flutters are common and harmless among children, but when they begin to occur outside of their exercise or playtime routines, increase in frequency and begin to last longer, and that too along with any of the other symptoms, they must be reported to a doctor immediately.