Types of Fetal Arrhythmias
There are various different types of abnormal heartbeats in infants. Some are more common than others.
- Irregular Heartbeats: Irregular heartbeats are the most common type of fetal heart arrhythmia. They are often discovered before birth during prenatal appointments. Irregular heartbeats usually begin in the atria of the heart, causing extra or premature heartbeats to occur. These are usually not problematic and typically resolve on their own.
- Fetal Tachycardia: Fetal tachycardia arises in only 0.4% to 0.6% of all pregnancies. It commonly occurs in the form of sinus tachycardia, which causes an increase in heart rate when your baby breathes. Tachycardia may be caused by fetal distress, drug use, or infection. In a small percentage of cases, fetal tachycardia is the result of cardiac tumors.
- Fetal Brachycardia: Fetal brachycardia is highly infrequent, accounting for only 5% of all fetal arrhythmias. Fetal brachycardia causes your baby's heart rate to drop below 100 beats per minute for a period of five minutes or longer. It may be the result of structural abnormalities within the heart.
Complications of Abnormal Heartbeats
There are some complications associated with fetal arrhythmias. If left untreated or undiagnosed, fetal arrhythmias can become exacerbated or develop into long-standing problems.
Fetal arrhythmias can:
- result in fetal distress
- make it difficult for baby to breathe
- result in fetal or infant death
There is some evidence linking fetal arrhythmias with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Symptoms of Abnormal Hearbeats
Because your baby cannot tell you that she is experiencing an abnormal heartbeat, it is important that you watch out for the following signs of arrhythmia:
- excessive sleepiness or fatigue
- change in pallor
Treating Abnormal Heartbeats
Abnormal heartbeats can now be treated in utero or immediately following birth. Treatment will depend upon the cause of the abnormal heartbeat, and may include medications or surgery.
Most fetal arrhythmias resolve on their own without any treatment, however, it is important that your baby be monitored regularly for recurrence.
- Medications: Medications are often used to help treat tachycardias. They work to improve the symptoms of the tachycardia and prevent future episodes.
- Radiofrequency Ablation: Is used in life threatening cases of tachycardia. Small catheters are placed inside the heart, with one placed over the area causing the tachycardia. These catheters are heated, preventing electrical impulses from passing through the abnormal area.
- Artificial Pacemaker: In cases of severe infant arrhythmia, an artificial pacemaker can be placed in the body. Pacemakers are tiny instruments weighing about two ounces. They are inserted inside of the chest and connected to the heart with special wires. This machine sends electrical impulses to the heart, causing it to beat normally.