Atrial Fibrillation in Children

child holding adult's hands

Does your child have atrial fibrillation? Here are some facts you should know.

Atrial fibrillation, also called AFib or AF, is very rare in children. But the symptoms, diagnosis and treatments are much the same as in an adult.

A normal heart rate in children varies according to age. In an infant, the heart beats about 140 times per minute. For an older child, 70 beats per minute is normal.

As with adults, children with AFib have multiple electrical signals firing from various locations in or around the heart. This causes the atria to fibrillate, or “quiver.” This in turn causes the ventricles to contract at an abnormal rate — and less effectively.

atrial fibrillation

View an animation of AFib.

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 pediatrician 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

The pediatrician 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 study — A small, thin catheter (or wire) is inserted through a vein into the heart. This will allow doctors to locate the sites causing arrhythmias.
  • Stress test — This test shows how the heart is functioning during exercise.
  • Heart monitors — These are small monitors worn by the child from anywhere from 24 hours to one month. They can detect any abnormal heart rhythms.

Several treatments are available based on diagnostic testing.

AFib in children is usually treatable and manageable with medication. Please see your pediatrician if you suspect that your child has AFib. As with adults, the risk of stroke or pulmonary embolism increases with AFib.

Some studies show possible links to heredity, while others attribute childhood AFib to congenital heart abnormalities or post-surgical complications.

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