Tachycardia (Fast Heart Rate) in Children

Tachycardia is faster than usual heart rate. For newborns, a resting heart rate of more than 160 beats/minute is considered tachycardia. For teenagers, the number is 90 beats/minute.

Tachycardia is an arrhythmia, or abnormal heart beat, and some types need no treatment at all or may go away on their own. Other tachycardias are more serious and can cause problems for children. A few are even genetic, and we can trace them in families.

Our electrophysiologists (EPs) — doctors with special training in heart rhythm problems — treat all types of tachycardia.

chart of normal resting heart rates for kids by age

What Are the Most Common Types of Tachycardia in Children?

At Lurie Children’s, we see the whole range of tachycardia arrhythmias, including:

  • Supraventricular tachycardia (SVT): This is the most common tachycardia. It starts in the upper chambers of the heart and is rarely life-threatening. We have various ways of treating SVT, though sometimes it doesn’t require treatment.

  • Ventricular tachycardia (VT): VT starts in the lower chambers of the heart. It is far rarer than SVT and is often related to other heart conditions. It can be life-threatening and nearly always requires treatment.

  • Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome (WPW): With WPW, the electrical pathways between the heart’s upper and lower chambers don’t function properly. It usually requires treatment, and may be associated with other congenital heart disease.

  • Catecholaminergic Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia (CPVT): This condition runs in families and causes the heart to beat dangerously fast during surges of adrenaline. It’s life-threatening, but can be treated once diagnosed.

  • Long QT Syndrome (LQTS): LQTS is related to how long it takes the lower chambers of the heart to contract and release. It can cause dangerous episodes of VT. It’s often genetic, and once we find it, we can treat it.

  • Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS): This is an abnormal increase in heart rate when moving from lying down to standing up. It’s most common in adolescent girls, and is often related to injury, illness or growth spurts. We have several noninvasive, simple ways to treat.

How We Diagnose & Treat Tachycardia

Parents may notice symptoms of tachycardia, like their child complaining their heart is “beeping,” which may mean heart palpitations. For children old enough to talk, we can ask questions and rule out certain conditions before we do any tests.

The most common test is an electrocardiogram, or EKG, which gives us electrical information about the heart. We may also have children wear a Holter monitor, which records their heart rhythms over an entire month.

We can do these tests on babies, too, but we often find the tachycardia while the mother is still pregnant, through our Fetal Cardiology Program. We use a fetal echocardiogram to look more closely at a baby’s heart.

Dangerous tachycardias that are linked to sudden cardiac arrest always need treatment. But the treatment depends on the child’s age and family history (since some arrhythmias are genetic). We may use medication or implantable devices. 

For tachycardias like SVT, VT and WPW, we often use cardiac ablation. This is a nonsurgical procedure that lets us specifically target the arrhythmia. It’s one of the most effective treatments and has a very high success rate. 

Why Choose Lurie Children’s for Tachycardia Arrhythmias?

U.S.News & World Report ranks us among the top hospitals for pediatric cardiology and heart surgery. In Chicago and beyond, we’re known for:

  • Complete heart care: Tachycardia is often related to other pediatric heart conditions. As a destination heart center, we treat even the most complex cases and offer round-the-clock care in our Regenstein Cardiac Care Unit.
  • Diagnostic excellence: Our EP team specializes in reading event monitor and other tests for arrhythmias. We can pick up abnormalities others may miss, and get to a diagnosis more quickly.
  • Latest techniques in cardiac ablation: The standard is radiofrequency ablation, which uses heat to burn tissue causing the arrhythmia. But we also offer cryoablation therapy. This uses cold to freeze the tissue and is safer for treating some types of tachycardia.
  • Genetic focus: In our Cardiovascular Genetics Clinic, we treat whole families with inherited tachycardia arrhythmias. Diagnosing these arrhythmias can save lives.

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