Characterized by a fluttering in the chest, a suddenly high heart rate can make you feel as if your heart is galloping out of control. The medical term for a racing heart is supraventricular tachycardia. It happens when the heart receives extra electrical signals. A quicker than normal heartbeat can happen to anyone, even healthy children and babies. For most children, the experience does not indicate a life-threatening condition. Medication may be needed to alleviate the tachycardia, but sometimes children simply outgrow it.
Heart rates depend upon age. Babies have the fastest heartbeat. A newborn’s heart typically beats 120 to 140 times per minute. As babies grow and become older, their heart rates slow. Adolescents usually have a heart rate of 70 beats per minute when they’re relaxed or resting. In general, any time a heart beats more than 200 times per minute it’s beating faster than normal.
Running, jumping or other physical activities can lead to a racing heart. An unexpected event, such as sudden movement or a loud noise, can also trigger the heart to beat rapidly. These types of responses are referred to as sinus tachycardia. They are completely normal and should be expected. However, if your child’s heart rate spikes when he’s not exercising, excited or stressed, he may be experiencing abnormal tachycardia.
If your child is old enough, she may tell you that her heart is jumping or that it feels strange. She may have trouble breathing, become lightheaded, dizzy or sweat. You may see her chest move up and down at a rapid rate. It’s more difficult to tell if babies are experiencing tachycardia because their heart rates are normally fast. In some cases, their skin may look pale or feel cooler than normal. Other symptoms include fussiness when eating, difficulty falling asleep and irritability.
A racing heart may feel strange or uncomfortable to your child but it usually does not indicate a major concern. You can often help slow the heart rate by having your child rest quietly. If this doesn’t work, instruct him to take a deep breath and push down on the same muscles he uses to have a bowel movement. If your child is too young to understand, have him blow on his hand or into one end of a straw while you pinch the other end closed. Ask him to blow for as long as he can. Heart rates can also be slowed by placing an icepack, bag of frozen food or wet washcloth on your child’s face. Make sure to leave his nose uncovered.
If none of these treatments works or if your child’s heart races on a regular basis, set up an appointment with her doctor. Keep track of your child’s symptoms, how often she experiences a racing heart and what she’s doing when it happens. Make note of how long it lasts and what helped the heart to slow back down. The more information you can give your doctor, the easier it will be to diagnose the cause of your child’s tachycardia. Your doctor may schedule an EKG or recommend a specialist. Once a diagnosis is made, your child may be prescribed medication to help slow down her heart rate.
If your child’s heart races for over 20 minutes or if he faints, take him to the emergency room for immediate care.