Treating and Preventing Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Children

Treating and Preventing Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Children

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) can happen to anyone – including young children. In paediatric SCA, the electric impulse that causes the heart to beat fails, stopping the heart instantly and preventing the flow of oxygenated blood to the brain and vital organs. Although it is more rarely seen in children than adults, approximately 16,000 children in the USA alone experience SCA each year, accounting for around 3% of deaths. As with adults, the key to surviving an SCA and having a good outcome is fast treatment with an AED.

Preventing Paediatric Cardiac Arrest

Preventing SCA in children is all about knowing and being able to recognise the factors that put certain children at a higher risk of SCA. Many – but not all – children experience symptoms leading up to their SCA, although these are often mild and can be attributed to common ailments. Risk factors to be aware of include:

  • A diagnosis of or family history of congenital heart problems and structural heart abnormalities.
  • A diagnosis of or family history of heart conditions that cause abnormal heart rhythms
  • Unexplained fainting and seizures, or fainting/seizures when excited, startled or engaged in athletic activity.
  • Chest pain or discomfort.
  • Dizziness or light-headedness after strenuous physical activity.
  • Unexplained shortness of breath and fatigue.

It’s important to talk to your child about these symptoms, as many can be dismissed as just feeling unwell, missing a meal or feeling tired. Young athletes are especially at risk because of how they push their bodies to perform and the resulting stress they put on their heart (which can trigger SCA if they have an underlying heart condition) and bodies. They may think what they are feeling is normal.

What to Do If Your Child is High Risk

If your child displays any of these warning signs or has these risk factors, it is important to talk to your family doctor or paediatrician. They may recommend diagnostic testing (for example, an echocardiogram or electrocardiogram) to discover underlying heart issues and develop a treatment plan. They, along with paediatric cardiology specialists, will also be able to help guide your path forward to help ensure a healthy, active life and lower the risk of SCA.

Recognising SCA in Children

The symptoms that are a precursor to SCA are often subtle and easily dismissed, but many patients do complain of chest discomfort or chest pain, fatigue and dizziness – especially during or after physical activity.

However, the symptoms of the SCA itself are very clear. The patient experiencing the SCA will immediately and suddenly collapse, be unresponsive (shout at them and gently pinch them to see if they wake up), and they will have no pulse (check at their carotid artery in the neck or put your head on their chest – if there is a regular or fast heartbeat, it is not SCA).

Treating SCA in Children

SCA in children is treated the same way as SCA in adults – with a shock to the heart from a defibrillator. This is the only way to treat SCA and jolt the heart out of the abnormal rhythm and restore blood flow.

It is essential that this treatment is rapid – within 2 minutes of the SCA if not sooner – so it is vital that schools, sports and coaching centres, gyms and child care centres all have a defibrillator on hand. An automatic external defibrillator (AED) is one of the simplest and most effective defibrillators available, and can be used by anyone even if they have had no medical or First Aid training. In addition, to starting the AED and placing the electrodes on the patient’s chest, you can start bystander CPR (chest compressions) this will keep the oxygen already in circulation moving to vital organs. The AED will use voice prompts, text prompts, light indicators or a combination of these to instruct you on exactly what to do.

Remember, an AED will only supply a shock if the distinctive heart rhythm of a SCA is detected. It will not accidentally shock you or supply a shock for any other reason. All you have to do is follow the prompts and keep everyone from touching the patient when the shock is going to be delivered.

AEDs are generally used on adults, but most models have a setting for paediatric patients where they supply a slightly lesser shock to account for their smaller body and heart. However, in an emergency situation, any AED can and should be used on a child even if it does not have paediatric settings, as this is their best chance of survival. In fact, every minute that passes reduces survival and the chance of a good outcome by 10%, so it is critical not to hesitate in the event of a SCA.

Where to Buy an AED for Children and Young Adults in Australia

Countless lives of children have been saved by AEDs – but there is still more we can do. By having an AED on-site wherever children gather or participate in sports and physical activity, we can save even more lives.

At DefibsPlus, we are the leading suppliers of AEDs, AED batteries and spare parts, as well as storage solutions in Australia. We can assist you with finding the correct AED for your budget and needs, as well as training you, your colleagues or your family in how to use one effectively and with confidence.

Contact us today for more information.