CHOA’s Internationally Recognized Arrhythmia Program Treats Kids with Abnormal Heart Rhythms

Children who have been diagnosed with an arrhythmia, palpitations or chest pains receive coordinated, specialized care at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Heart Center’s arrhythmia program. It is the largest clinical program in the Southeast, caring for more than 1,000 patients with arrhythmias from before birth through adulthood.

Arrhythmias, or an abnormal rhythm of the heart, may be congenital (present at birth) or they may develop later.

“We take care of all forms of abnormal heartbeats, whether the heart is beating too fast, which is called tachycardia, or too slow, which is called bradycardia,” said Peter Fischbach, MD, Director of Electrophysiology at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology. “Many arrhythmias are just nuisance problems, but some can be life-threatening. We treat and manage the garden variety arrhythmias all the way to the very rare abnormalities that sometimes go along with CHD.”

Children can be referred to the arrhythmia program for several different reasons. Sometimes patients complain of heart pounding or fluttering. Arrhythmia also can show up as chest pains or fainting or it can be picked up on an EKG during an evaluation for something else.

Treatments can include monitoring, pharmacological therapies (medicine) or interventional catheter ablations. Arrhythmias also are sometimes treated with implantable devices such as pacemakers, defibrillators, or long-term loop recorders to monitor arrhythmias over time. For many patients, treating an arrhythmia can be a curative procedure without need for further cardiovascular follow-up, but other patients will require care for the rest of their lives.

The goal is to return to normal childhood activities as much as possible,” Dr. Fischbach said. “We have helped children who were excluded from sports return to normal participation. Taking part in physical activity as safely as possible is so important to kids who felt different when they were not able to play sports. It’s also great for their wellness and overall well-being.”

The physicians, genetic counselors and nurse practitioners of the arrhythmia program manage most of the arrhythmia patients in Georgia who require advanced therapies. The CHOA program has been recognized as a program of excellence by the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association, a unique recognition for a pediatric program. 

“The arrhythmia program has been a leader in terms of integrating new technologies to improve the health of children,” Dr. Fischbach said. “We have been recognized for our use of fluoroscopy-free ablation procedures, advanced electroanatomic mapping and subcutaneous ICD implantation to treat life-threatening ventricular arrhythmia.”

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