Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT) in Children

Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) is an arrhythmia, or abnormal heart beat. It means the heart is beating too fast. This is usually because of an extra electrical connection between the top and bottom chambers of the heart.

SVT is the most common abnormal fast heart rhythm in children (these are called tachycardias). Babies can be born with it, or children can develop it later. SVT is rarely life-threatening and is highly treatable, at all ages.

Pediatric electrophysiologists (EPs) are doctors who specialize in taking care of children with arrhythmias like SVT. Our EPs see a large volume of children with this condition and offer the latest treatments.

What Are Symptoms of SVT?

Babies don’t always show symptoms of SVT right away. Their bodies can handle a fast heart rate for a while. When they do have symptoms, they usually include things like:

  • Trouble with feeding and poor weight gain
  • Sweating when feeding
  • Breathing faster than usual, almost like panting
  • Seeming lethargic, like something is off

Children who are old enough to communicate what’s wrong may have symptoms like:

  • Heart palpitations, or the feeling of a very fast heart beat. This can happen at rest or during exercise. Young children may say their heart is “beeping.”
  • Chest pain (children often feel a rapid or irregular heart beat as pain) and stomach ache
  • Feeling out of breath
  • Heart thumping, sometimes pulsing in the throat
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Fainting (called syncope)

How We Diagnose & Treat SVT

To diagnose a tachycardia like SVT, we need to record the fast heart beat happening. If your child is showing symptoms, we can often discover the SVT with a simple electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG).

Sometimes though, the arrhythmia doesn’t happen when we are watching. In this case, we use a Holter monitor. This monitor records the heart constantly, for as long as a month. Once we find the SVT and identify the type, we can treat it.

Many babies born with SVT grow out of it by their first birthday. However, children who develop it later because of other heart conditions are less likely to grow out of it.

For children who do need treatment, we may prescribe medication. Some children may need a procedure called cardiac ablation, which usually cures SVT. Lurie Children’s has special expertise in this non-surgical procedure. Learn how cardiac ablation works.

Why Choose Lurie Children’s for Treating Arrhythmias Like SVT?

Learning there is a problem with your baby’s heart can feel overwhelming. Families who come to Lurie Children’s take comfort in knowing we have:

  • Top-ranked pediatric heart care: U.S.News & World Report ranks us among the top hospitals for pediatric cardiology and heart surgery. We treat children with the most complex types of arrhythmia and congenital heart disease.
  • Large EP program: Our team of EP specialists see a large volume of children with SVT, as well as other kinds of tachycardia. An EP is on call 24/7 and we’re integrated into every area of the Heart Center.
  • Experience treating all types of arrhythmias: From heart block to rare genetic arrhythmias like CPVT, we treat the range of conditions that affect the heart’s electrical system. Our EPs work closely with our Cardiovascular Genetics Clinic to trace arrhythmias that run in families.
  • Expertise with cardiac ablation: The standard is radiofrequency ablation, which uses heat to burn tissue causing the SVT. But we’re one of the few programs in the region to also offer cryoablation therapy. This uses cold to freeze the tissue and is safer for some types of SVT.

Long-Term Effects of SVT

SVT is a condition we understand well and can treat with success. Children with SVT generally don’t have activity restrictions. Your child’s EP may discuss techniques you can do at home to manage SVT episodes.

Some of the medicines we use to control SVT can have side effects, like fatigue or mood swings. Cardiac ablation comes with some risks, but they are minimal. The EP will review any risks and talk through options with you.

We continue to monitor children with a childhood diagnosis of arrhythmia, even as they become adults. Our Adult Congenital Heart Disease (ACHD) Program treats and counsels adults throughout their lifetime.

Heart Center Family Resource Guide

To help prepare families for their care with Lurie Children's Heart Center, we have compiled a list of resources about treatment and recovery. Learn how to get ready for an inpatient stay or outpatient visit, and read about our support services for patients and families.

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