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Quick reference medical handouts used by Pediatric offices

Heart Palpitations in your child

Palpitations are the awareness that the heart is beating forcefully, rapidly, or irregularly. There often is a feeling of "skipping beats" or "fluttering in the chest." They can occur in normal healthy children, as well as in youngsters with heart problems. Palpitations can be very frightening. to both the child and parents, but most palpitations do not indicate underlying heart disease. If your child is complaining about having palpitations, there is a good chance that nothing is seriously wrong.

However, if your child's palpitations are accompanied by shortness of breath, chest discomfort, feeling faint or passing out, then the palpitations could be due to an underlying heart disorder and you should seek medical attention from their doctor. 

Many children and adults who experience palpitations are probably having premature heart beats.  The heart has its own electrical system that organizes the activity of the four pumping chambers. The sinus node is the natural pacemaker of the heart and usually sends signals at regular intervals to the rest of the conduction system. Occasionally, other areas of the heart can send signals that can activate the electrical system earlier than the sinus node. These are referred to as premature or early beats. Children with normal hearts can have these early beats quite frequently and not realize they are having them, while others are acutely aware of every extra beat of their heart and will complain of palpitations.

Premature beats are not dangerous and are very common. There are some situations however when these extra beats require further investigation. If these beats are associated with other symptoms, particularly fainting, then they may actually represent a run of early beats. These early beats can interfere with the pumping of blood to the rest of the body, particularly the brain, and hence cause fainting. This can become a medical emergency.

In addition to single extra beats, runs of fast rhythms, or tachycardias, can be sensed as palpitations. Some children, particularly young adults, are aware of rapid heartbeats that are due to the speeding up of the heart that naturally occurs in response to exercise or stress. This is called sinus tachycardia and is normal.

Some children have extra connections of the heart's electrical system that can speed up the heart rate in an abnormal fashion. These usually arise from the upper chambers of the heart and are referred as supraventricular tachycardias. These types of fast heartbeats are usually more of a nuisance than dangerous unless they go on for hours at a time. There are also some fast heart rhythms that originate from the ventricles and are referred to as ventricular tachycardias. These are dangerous rhythms and are usually associated with some other symptom such as dizziness or fainting

Although your child's palpitations can be due to anxiety and panic attacks, you should not assume this and, particularly if the palpitations are associated with other symptomsd you should arrange for a full checkup, which also might include an electrocardiogram and/or a consultation with a specialist.


As a reminder, this information should not be relied on as medical advice and is not intended to replace the advice of your child’s pediatrician. Please read our full disclaimer.

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