What to Know If Your Child is Diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation
No matter how old your child is, when they are diagnosed with any health condition it can be a daunting time. As a parent, you want to support your child as much as possible and knowing more about their condition and how to manage it can help you feel more in control. If your child has been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, read on for more information on the condition and the treatment options available.
- What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
To understand this condition, it is worth discovering how the heart works and what each chamber is called. Atrial fibrillation, often shortened to AF, is an abnormality within the heart. Our heart is very clever and has its very own conduction system, which sends impulses between the upper (atria) and lower chambers (ventricles) to ensure it beats regularly. Atrial fibrillation affects the way these impulses work, sending its own impulses from the left atrium. These impulses are very sporadic, causing the regular impulses to be overridden which then leads the heart to beat in an irregular rhythm.
- The Different Types of Atrial Fibrillation
There are three main types of atrial fibrillation. For some children, they may suffer with the condition for only a short amount of time before it resolves. If your child begins to alternate between normal rhythm and sinus rhythm, which is the normal rhythm in which your heart should beat, they will be diagnosed with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation. If paroxysmal atrial fibrillation remains untreated, it can become more regular and will then become persistent atrial fibrillation.
Persistent atrial fibrillation is diagnosed when the symptoms last for more than one week. As many children cannot express themselves, it may be that they do not present initially with symptoms and may be diagnosed with persistent atrial fibrillation. Permanent atrial fibrillation is diagnosed when there are no more attempts to correct the abnormal rhythms of the heart as treatments have failed or it is symptomless.
- The Risks of Atrial Fibrillation
The biggest risk factor for children and adults with atrial fibrillation is the risk of having a stroke. For those with the condition, this occurs due to the atria (upper chambers of the heart) not contracting enough to push blood out to where it needs to go within the body. As blood may sit in the upper chambers, this can lead to the formation of blood clots. If this blood clot is then released through the body to small blood vessels within the brain, it can stop blood flow to the brain which in turn will cause a stroke. Atrial fibrillation is different for everyone and your child will need to be assessed by either a Paediatric or Specialist Cardiologist and other professionals to indicate the risk factor of them having a stroke. If there is a chance of stroke, there are treatments for this such as anticoagulants which thin the blood to reduce the risk of clotting.
- What Happens When My Child Is Diagnosed?
Atrial fibrillation is not a life-threatening condition, although it may be scary for a child and it can make them fatigued as the heart is working faster than it should be. Your child will be individually assessed so medical professionals can form an appropriate plan of care and decide on the treatments that will work best for them.
When your child is diagnosed with a cardiac condition such as this, you want to give them the best care possible. For example, Dr Syed Ahsan specialises in atrial fibrillation treatment and is based in the London Heart Clinic. Dr Ahsan has won awards for his work with cardiac patients and has a special interest in rhythmic disorders such as atrial fibrillation. You can make an appointment yourself or be referred to his clinic. As discussed earlier, the first line treatment would be anticoagulants (blood thinners).
- Treatment for Atrial Fibrillation
Medication is often used to help control the rate the heart is beating and keep it within a normal rhythm. This can help with the uncomfortable or painful feeling that your child may feel in their chest due to their condition. As with all medications, there are side effects to these which your Consultant will speak to you in detail about before starting your child on them. Some patients with the condition may be delivered an electric shock to shock the heart back into its normal beat. This is a very safe procedure and although it can be daunting for your child, they will have an anaesthetic to make the procedure as quick and easy as possible for them. Catheter ablation is often used for atrial fibrillation and information on this can be found on the British Heart Foundation website.
If you have further queries on your child’s condition, you should speak to a professional involved in your child’s care. They will be able to answer any questions you may have and they are there to support you and your child through your diagnosis and treatment.