Sudden cardiac arrest in children is a condition that can strike without warning, but it’s also one that parents can prepare for the worst to happen.
This blog will provide you with essential knowledge about cardiac arrest in kids and what to do if it happens.
What Is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
Cardiac arrest in children is the sudden stopping of the heart. It mainly occurs when a cardiac event triggers a rapid loss of blood flow to all parts of the body, leading to death in a very short time if no one intervenes. It’s most common in athletes but can also occur even in children who don’t participate in sports.
Sudden cardiac arrest is most often the result of a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which can present from birth or develop as a child grows. The muscle around the chambers and valves of the heart thickens, making it harder for blood to flow through and sometimes completely blocking off the flow. It can cause life-threatening irregular heart rhythms that lead to cardiac arrest unless preventive measures are applied.
Other conditions associated with sudden cardiac arrest in children are:
- Coronary Artery Anomalies
- Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome
- Long QT Syndrome
What Happens During Cardiac Arrest?
Cardiac arrest in children comes in two types:
- Ventricular Fibrillation (VF)
Ventricular fibrillation is the most common type of cardiac arrest in children. It occurs when there are rapid, uncoordinated contractions of the ventricles, which pump blood through the heart to provide the oxygen needed by the rest of the body. Ventricular fibrillation causes little or no blood flow.
As a result, the person quickly becomes unconscious and stops breathing. Within minutes, brain damage occurs that can cause death.
The second type, atrial fibrillation, occurs when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions and triggers rapid contractions. In children, atrial fibrillation can be caused by a congenital heart defect or an infection that weakens the heart muscle. When this happens, blood pools in the heart instead of moving efficiently through it.
As a result, not enough blood is pumped to the brain, kidneys, and other organs. Affected children become confused or lose consciousness and stop breathing.
Suppose cardiac arrest is not treated well within minutes of its onset. In that case, death may occur—even with emergency medical assistance on the way—so parents must know how to respond until help arrives.
Are There Signs of Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
During cardiac arrest, the child’s face may turn pale or bluish-gray, and they may suddenly appear very still. Their mouth might drop open, and there won’t be any movement except for slight twitching of the lips. Breathing will become regular but very slow, with no gasping or snoring. The child may have a bluish tint around the lips and skin under their fingernails.
What Should Parents Do?
Parents are not helpless in the event their child suffers cardiac arrest. The American Heart Association, European Resuscitation Council, and other groups have developed suggested guidelines to follow if a child has an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.
The following steps are critical if the person isn’t breathing:
Shake or tap the child gently. If there’s no response, call 911 immediately. Look for movement in the chest to indicate they are still breathing. If you’re the only one present around, do NOT leave the child alone until others arrive to take over CPR or give intravenous heart medication.
To do this:
- Place your hand on their forehead and extend their neck back to straighten the air passageway are choking on their tongue.
- Place your ear next to the child patient’s mouth to check their breathing. If you don’t feel air moving, pinch the child’s nose and cover their mouth with your mouth.
- Give two slow breaths until you see your chest rise.
Observe the chest to find out if it rises and falls with each breath. If there’s no sign of breathing, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
If the child’s not breathing properly and has an absent pulse, give CPR with chest compressions and rescue breaths.
Continue checking for signs of life and administering CPR until help arrives (at least five minutes). If the child shows any sign of life, stop CPR and check for other problems.
What Parents Shouldn’t Do
Don’t assume an ill child has acute cardiac arrest until it’s been confirmed by emergency personnel. A child may have a heart attack or respiratory failure that can be treated with CPR or advanced life-support measures. If you see warning signs of respiratory failure, perform CPR until help arrives.
- What to Expect in a Hospital
Once your child is in an emergency room, doctors will take blood tests and other diagnostic tests to determine if they have a heart problem leading to cardiac arrest. If so, they’ll have an electrocardiogram (ECG – a test that measures heart rhythms), Holter monitor, or event monitor to record the heart’s electrical activity. They may also have an echocardiogram to look at the size and function of the heart chambers.
Is There Help Available?
Parents can help families get the equipment and training they need to save lives. The Emergency Cardiac Care (ECC) program provides ECC-trained lay people with manuals, medications, defibrillators, and other materials for use in public places. ECC instructors teach the American Heart Association’s CPR guidelines, emphasizing chest compressions and early defibrillation to help prevent brain damage.
Local hospitals also have resuscitation equipment and advanced life-support teams to provide treatment until children arrive at a hospital.
What Can Parents Do to Prevent Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
Parents can’t prevent their child from getting a heart condition that leads to cardiac arrest. Still, they can take precautions to avoid sudden cardiac arrests caused by accidents and other injuries.
- Make sure your child has a physical exam each year with an EKG. Have an EKG if you have a family history of heart abnormalities or if your child has any symptoms of heart problems.
- Take all doctor-prescribed medications exactly as directed by your health care provider, and make sure children do the same when taking medication.
- Promote safe play habits such as wearing helmets when biking or in-line skating, using bike safety equipment, and playing team sports only after proper instruction.
- Supervise children closely when using playground equipment or playing sports to ensure they don’t get injured. Ensure that helmets and other protective gear are available, and watch for warning signs of serious injury.
- If you have a private backyard swimming pool or hot tub, ensure that the equipment is installed correctly and properly maintained. Please don’t leave children unattended near swimming pools and other bodies of water, and keep them away from heights.
- Make sure your child/little why is wearing a seatbelt in every vehicle at all times. Your child should be buckled into the middle of the backseat, if possible, or as far back as possible to avoid airbag injuries. If the car doesn’t have shoulder belts in the backseat, put your infant on your lap and hold their chest against your body. Never put your little one/child in the front seat, no matter how short the trip.
Sudden cardiac arrest in children can strike at any time. It takes only a few minutes for brain damage to occur, so the sooner CPR or defibrillation is given, the better chance of survival there is. Sudden cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack, which usually has warning symptoms of pain or discomfort in the chest.
Learn CPR guidelines, including how to perform rescue breathing correctly. Know the location of local emergency phone numbers and your health care provider’s phone number.
Disclaimer: The statements, opinions, and data contained in these publications are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of Credihealth and the editor(s).
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