Supraventricular Tachycardia in Children: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Cross section of the heart, showing its electrical system

When your child has supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), it means that from time to time your child's heart beats very fast. This fast rhythm is caused by changes in the electrical system of the heart.

SVT is not life-threatening for most children. But it can cause symptoms. Your child may feel a fluttering in the chest (palpitations) and have a fast pulse. When the heart is beating fast, your child may feel anxious and light-headed, be short of breath, and feel some pain in the chest. In a baby, you may notice a fast heart rate while you hold or feed your child. If SVT continues in your baby, you may notice problems with feeding. Your baby may be fussy or look paler than usual.

Your doctor may prescribe medicines to help slow your child's heartbeat. He or she may also suggest that your child try vagal manoeuvre when having an episode of SVT. These are things, like bearing down, that might help slow your child's heart rate. Bearing down means that you try to breathe out with your stomach muscles but you don't let air out of your nose or mouth. Your child's doctor can show you and your child how to do vagal manoeuvres. The doctor may teach you to do them while lying on your back.

In some cases, either cardioversion treatment or a procedure called catheter ablation is done to stop SVT.

Your doctor may have your child wear a small electronic device for 1 or 2 days to monitor the heart. The device is called a Holter monitor.

Most children with SVT are able to enjoy their normal activities without restrictions.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think your child is having a problem with his or her medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • If the doctor showed you and your child how to do vagal manoeuvres, your child can try them during an episode. These manoeuvres include bearing down or putting an ice-cold, wet towel on your child's face.
  • Do not give your child over-the-counter decongestants. They often contain ingredients that make the heart beat faster (stimulants).
  • Monitor your child's condition by keeping a diary of his or her SVT episodes. Bring this to your child's doctor appointments. Start by counting your child's heart rate (take his or her pulse). Older children can learn to check and record their own heart rate. To check the heart rate:
    1. Gently place 2 fingers of your hand on the inside of your child's wrist, below his or her thumb.
    2. Count the beats for 30 seconds.
    3. Then double the result to get the number of beats per minute.
  • After you check your child's heart rate, write down:
    • How fast or slow your child's heart was beating.
    • If the heart rhythm was regular or irregular.
    • What symptoms your child had.
    • The time of day the symptoms occurred.
    • How long the symptoms lasted.
    • What your child was doing when the symptoms started.
    • What may have helped the symptoms go away.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child stops breathing, turns blue, or becomes unconscious. Follow the instructions given by emergency services while you wait for help.
  • Your child has fluttering in his or her chest or a fast heartbeat that does not stop quickly.
  • Your child has severe trouble breathing. Signs may include the chest sinking in, using belly muscles to breathe, or nostrils flaring while your child is struggling to breathe.
  • Your child has chest pain.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child had fluttering in the chest (palpitations) or a fast heartbeat that stopped on its own.
  • Your child is dizzy or light-headed or feels like he or she may faint.
  • You are concerned that your baby is not getting enough to eat.
  • Your baby seems sick.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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