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The heartbeat is the strong, rhythmic heart action that pumps blood to the body and lungs. It’s controlled by electrical signals in the heart. The rate or pattern of the heartbeat is known as the heart rhythm. Abnormal heart rhythms are called arrhythmias. These can cause your child to have symptoms such as lightheadedness, dizziness, low blood pressure, fainting, or fatigue. To help the doctor learn more about your child’s heart rhythm, tests can be done. These include:
Electrocardiography (ECG or EKG): This test records electrical signals from your child’s heart onto a paper strip. The pattern of these signals can help the doctor tell whether your child’s heart is normal, under stress, or experiencing electrical or rhythm problems. The test lasts about 10 minutes.
Holter monitoring: A Holter monitor is a portable device that records your child’s heart rhythm continuously for 24 hours. This device helps the doctor check for arrhythmias that occur frequently but can happen randomly.
Event monitoring: An event monitor is a portable device that records your child’s heart rhythm when symptoms occur. It’s generally used for periods longer than 24 hours. This device helps the doctor check for arrhythmias that occur less frequently but can happen randomly.
Before the test: Your child should wear loose, comfortable clothing to allow easy access to the chest. Let the technologist know if your child is taking any medications or has been experiencing any chest pain.
During the test: Your child lies still on an exam table. Electrodes (small sticky pads) are placed on your child’s chest, arms, and legs. The electrodes record your child’s heart rhythm and any changes in the heart signals that occur during the test. After 10 minutes of recording, the technologist removes the electrodes.
After the test: Unless told not to, your child can return to his or her normal routine. The doctor may give you early results after the test. You’ll receive complete results when they’re ready.
Before the test: You may need to take your child to the hospital to receive a Holter or an event monitor. Arrangements may also be made with an outside company to have someone deliver the monitor to your home and show you how to use it. With a Holter monitor, the electrodes are connected from the monitor to your child’s chest. The monitor is normally worn around the waist on a belt or over the shoulder in a bag. A mesh vest is given to your child to wear under his or her clothes to protect the monitor from being damaged. With an event monitor, electrodes may or may not need to be connected to the chest. Your child may have one that is worn on the body like a Holter monitor, or one that he or she carries.
During the test: Your child should continue with normal daily activities. You or your child will need to keep a written log of these activities. If your child has a Holter or event monitor that is worn on the body, don’t bathe your child since the monitor may get wet. Also, avoid taking your child’s shirt off to prevent possible damage to the monitor. Remove the Holter or event monitor as instructed by your child’s doctor. An event monitor that is not worn on the body should be held against the chest when symptoms occur. A button is pressed to record your child’s heart rhythm for 1 minute.
After the test: Return the Holter or event monitor when the test is complete. The heart rhythm recorded by the monitor and the activity log are then compared and analyzed. Your child’s doctor will follow up with you with complete results.