Atrial Tachycardia

In patients with atrial tachycardia, the heart's electrical impulse comes from somewhere in the heart's upper chambers, called the atria, other than the sino-atrial (SA) node. The SA node is normally the pacemaker of the heart, responsible for regulating a regular heart rhythm and rate. With atrial tachycardia, the SA node is often suppressed; thus, the alternate site in the atrium that regulates the heart's rhythm causes a fast heart rate.

The "normal" number of heartbeats per minute, called pulse rate, varies with age. The heart beats about 140 times a minute in a newborn, compared to 70 times a minute in an older child at rest. Heart rate is not constant, changing in response to many factors, such as activity, fever and fear. In atrial tachycardia, the heart rate may be as fast as 200 to 300 beats per minute.

Atrial tachycardia may cause the following symptoms:

  • Chest pressure or pain
  • Fainting, also known as syncope, or near-syncope
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Palpitations, which can be skipping, fluttering or pounding in the chest
  • Shortness of breath

It is important to note that some children may not know how to describe what they are feeling during a period of atrial tachycardia. They may have trouble keeping up with other children or realize they are having "spells" and want to sit down and rest. Sometimes, a child does not experience any symptoms at all.

Atrial tachycardia often occurs spontaneously and with unpredictable timing. Therefore, many specialized tests are often needed to make an accurate diagnosis. If your doctor suspects that your child has atrial tachycardia, he or she will order one or more of the following diagnostic tests to determine the source of your child's symptoms.

  • Electrocardiogram — An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) records the heart's electrical activity. Small patches called electrodes are placed on your child's chest, arms and legs, and are connected by wires to the ECG machine. The electrical impulses of your child's heart are translated into a graph or chart, enabling doctors to determine the pattern of electrical current flow in the heart and to diagnose arrhythmias.
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Treatment for your child's atrial tachycardia will depend on the type and severity of your child's condition and the results of the various diagnostic tests, such as the electrophysiology (EP) study. You and your doctor will decide which treatment is right for your child.

The following treatments may be considered:


Certain anti-arrhythmic drugs change the electrical signals in the heart and help prevent irregular or rapid heart rhythms from occurring. Medication may be used to convert atrial tachycardia to a normal rhythm, slow down the heart rate or prevent recurrences.

Follow-up Electrophysiology Study

To make sure that your childs medication is working properly, your child may be brought to the Electrophysiology Laboratory for an electrophysiology (EP) study. Our goal is to find the medication that works best for your child. On occasion, we admit children to the hospital and monitor their heart rhythm while we start the medication.

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Heart Center

Arrhythmia Center
1825 Fourth St., Sixth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 514-2783
Fax: (415) 353-4144
Appointment information

Pediatric Heart Center Clinic at Mission Bay
1825 Fourth St., Sixth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353-2008
Fax: (415) 353-4144
Appointment information

Cardiac Intensive Care Unit
1975 Fourth St., Fourth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353-1955
Fax: (415) 353-9144