Supraventricular tachycardia is the most frequent form of symptomatic tachydysrhythmia in children. Neonates and infants with paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardias generally present with signs of acute congestive heart failure. In school-aged children and adolescents, palpitations are the leading symptom. Chronic-permanent tachycardia results in a secondary form of dilated cardiomyopathy.
Therapy for episodes of tachycardia depends on the individual situation. In severe haemodynamic compromise, or if ventricular tachycardia is suspected, tachycardia should immediately be terminated by external cardioversion during deep sedation. Vagal manoeuvres are effective in patients with atrioventricular reentrant tachycardias. Adenosine is the drug of first choice in any age group for tachycardias involving the atrioventricular node; its advantages include short half-life and minimal or absent negative inotropic effects. Adenosine may also be used in patients with wide QRS complex tachycardia. Intravenous verapamil is contraindicated in neonates and infants because of the high risk of electromechanical dissociation. In older children (<5 years) and adolescents, verapamil may be administered with the same restrictions as in adult patients (wide QRS complex tachycardia, significant haemodynamic compromise).
Spontaneous cessation of tachycardia can be expected in most neonates and infants during the first year of life. Prophylactic pharmacological treatment in this age group is advisable because recognition of tachycardia is often delayed until the occurrence of symptoms. Withdrawal of drug treatment should be attempted around the end of the first year. However, in older children, spontaneous cessation of tachycardia is rare.
Prophylactic drug therapy is performed on an empirical basis. Digoxin may be administered in all forms of supraventricular tachycardia in which the atrioventricular node is involved, except in patients with pre-excitation syndrome aged <1 year. In patients with atrioventricular reentrant tachycardia, class 1C drugs such as flecainide and propafenone are effective. Sotalol is also effective in atrioventricular reentrant tachycardia, as well as in primary atrial tachycardia. Although amiodarone has the highest antiarrhythmic potential, it should be used with caution because of its high rate of adverse effects.
In school-aged children and adolescents, radiofrequency catheter ablation of the anatomical substrate is an attractive alternative to drug therapy, with a rate of permanent cessation of the tachycardia of up to 90%. Despite the clear advantages of this procedure, it should be performed only with unquestionable indication; the long term morphological and electrophysiological sequelae on the growing atrial and ventricular myocardium are still unknown.
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