Diagnosing and Treating Heart Rhythm Problems in Children
If your child has been diagnosed with an arrhythmia or is suspected of having a heart rhythm problem, it's important that he or she be examined by a pediatric electrophysiologist--a physician who specializes in caring for children who have heart rhythm disorders.
At the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital, our heart care team includes pediatric electrophysiologists who have extensive expertise in diagnosing and treating arrhythmias in children. Here, our pediatric heart rhythm experts offer a wide range of diagnostic and treatment options for children of any age who may suffer from an abnormal heart rhythm. These same specialists are skilled in treating adults with arrhythmias caused by congenital heart disease.
Our electrophysiologists are actively researching new and better ways to treat heart rhythm disorders in children. Researchers at the University of Chicago are also studying the genetic causes of some forms of arrhythmias, such as long QT syndrome.
Electrophysiology studies are tests done to evaluate the heart's electrical activity, so physicians can detect abnormal electrical impulses that affect the heart's ability to pump blood. Unlike most hospitals, we offer specialized expertise and equipment for diagnosing heart rhythm problems in children.
At Comer Children's Hospital, our pediatric heart specialists provide the following types of electrophysiology tests:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG): This is a common, painless test that involves placing electrodes (small, plastic "stickers") to your child's chest to record the electrical activity of the heart. Learn more »
- Holter monitoring: Holter monitoring is done to record the electrical activity of the heart over a specified period of time, usually 24 to 48 hours. The patient wears a small, portable electrocardiography device that records heart rhythm. Learn more »
- Event recording. Event recording is similar to Holter monitoring, except that the patient only uses the device when symptoms occur.
- Transesophageal electrophysiology studies (TEP): TEP is a type of electrocardiogram that is performed to determine the cause of a patient's fast heartbeat (tachycardia). A thin tube equipped with a special device is inserted into the esophagus to get closer to the heart to take more detailed recordings.
- Tilt table testing: Tilt testing is done to better understand the cause of symptoms such as fainting, dizziness, and lightheadedness. Heartbeats and blood pressure are monitored while the patient lies on a table that is tilted from a lying position to a standing position. Learn more »
- Intracardiac electrophysiology studies (EPS): This test involves threading a thin catheter into a vein in the groin, and then into the heart. The catheter is equipped with a special device that records electrical activity. The physician can also treat arrhythmias during this procedure.
Sophisticated Treatment Options
With proper treatment, most children who have arrhythmias can lead normal, active lives. Today, some types of childhood arrhythmias can be effectively treated with medication. Other heart rhythm problems may require special ablation treatments that destroy the abnormal heart tissue causing the arrhythmia. State-of-the-art small, implantable pacemakers and defibrillators are very effective at regulating severe arrhythmias.
Some of the options available at Comer Children's Hospital for treating heart rhythm problems in children include:
- Radiofrequency catheter ablation: Some types of arrhythmias, such as supraventricular tachycardia, can be completely cured with radiofrequency catheter ablation. In this procedure, a thin catheter is threaded into a vein in the groin, and then into the heart. The tip of the catheter is equipped with a special device that emits high frequency radio waves that heat the abnormal heart tissue until it is destroyed. In most cases, the child will no longer need to take arrhythmia medication after this procedure.
- Pacemakers: Pacemakers are battery-powered, implantable devices that monitor heart rate and generate electrical impulses to stimulate the heart to beat if the rate is too slow. Today's pacemakers are incredibly small--about the size of a silver dollar. The pacemaker is implanted under the skin near the collarbone or below the ribs. Learn more »
- Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD): ICDs are similar to pacemakers, but they are capable of treating both slow and fast heart rhythms. Most often, ICDs are prescribed for dangerously fast heart rhythms. Like pacemakers, ICDs are implanted under the skin. Learn more »
- Surgery: In some cases, surgery is required to treat underlying heart defects that cause the arrhythmia.
Visit our online health library to read more about types of arrhythmias, treatment methods, pacemakers, and pacemaker care.