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Is My Child’s Heart Rate Healthy?

Is My Child’s Heart Rate Healthy?
Featured Speaker:
Colin Kane, MD
Colin Edward Kane, M.D., is a cardiologist who practices at Children's Health and specializes in general cardiology and fetal cardiology, with an interest in echocardiography and care of patients with single ventricle heart disease.

Dr. Kane serves as director of the Cardiology Outreach Program, which operates clinics outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He is also an associate professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Dr. Kane earned his medical degree at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in 2002. Afterward, he completed an internal medicine and pediatrics internship and residency at Christiana Care Health System in Newark, Delaware. In 2009, Dr. Kane completed a fellowship in pediatric cardiology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Learn more about Dr. Kane

?Scott Webb: Welcome to Children's Health Checkup. I'm Scott Webb. And today, we are discussing healthy heart rates for our kids, how we can best check our kids' heart rates and what we should do if our kids have a rapid heart rate.

I'm joined today by Dr. Colin Kane. He's a cardiologist at Children's Health and associate professor at UT Southwestern. Dr. Kane, thanks so much for your time today. Let's start here. What is a healthy heart rate for a child?

Dr. Colin Kane: So as you probably know, there's a wide range of healthy or normal heart rates in children. in general, a child's heart rate is going to decrease as they get older. So newborns and infants tend to have higher resting heart rates as compared to older children and teenagers. so newborns and infants will generally have heart rates maybe from 100 to 160 beats per minute if they're calm. Older children say from one year of age, up through 10 years of age are going to have heart rates that tend to be a little bit lower, perhaps anywhere from, as low as 70 up to 120.

And then once kids get to be 10 years of age and teenagers, they tend to have heart rates that are more typical for adults. And so in adults, common range that is quoted from normal heart rates would be anywhere from 60 to 100 beats per minute.

Scott Webb: Do we know what can change a child's heart rate? Obviously, you're mentioning that it changes with age and how physically fit they are, perhaps. But in general, what can parents be on the lookout for in terms of changes in our kids' heart rates?

Dr. Colin Kane: you pointed out there, there are many things that are going to affect a heart rate. So, when a child is, resting and calm or even sleeping, that's when their heart rate's going to tend to be the lowest. But of course, any activity like playing or running or playing a sport is going to cause the heart rate to increase normally it should. Anything that causes any sort of discomfort to a child, whether that’s, pain or anxiety or stress, that can raise the heart rate as well.

And then when kids are sick, so having just regular, illnesses of childhood brings on fever or dehydration, that's also going to commonly cause the heart rate, to be elevated. Certainly, some medications have side effects of causing elevated heart rates and caffeine and other things that we might, drink can increase heart rate as well.

So those are all sort of normal increases in the heart rate in response to some kind of non-cardiac issue or factor. Now, when doctors like me get involved, that’s when there's some concern that it's an actual heart problem that's causing the heartbeat to be abnormal. So certainly problems related to, abnormal heart function or, heartbeats coming from, a different place in the heart than the typical heartbeat. Those sometimes can be signs of conditions in which the heart rate would be higher.

And then on the opposite end of the spectrum, there are some conditions in which the heart rate impulse can get blocked, which leads to abnormally slow heart rates. But like we said, here at the beginning, most of the time the heart rates are going to vary based on normal things and not because of heart problems.

Scott Webb: So for those of us at home who are checking our children's heart rates, how best can we do that?

Dr. Colin Kane: So there are several areas in the body where you can feel the pulse. The pulse is the feeling or the impulse that is made when the heart beats and that corresponds to the heart rate. In older children and teenagers and adults, probably the easiest place to check is the underside of the wrist, just below the thumb. This one, we call the radial pulse. And the simplest way to find this is to take two fingers, and apply some gentle pressure to that area on the underside of the wrist, just below the thumb. And then you should perceive or feel like a gentle thumping on your fingers. You probably have to, practice this a little bit just to learn exactly how much pressure to apply, but pretty easy to practice this on yourself. just checking on one of your own wrist and then, you can try on your child.

So normally, the heart rate is going to be reported in beats per minute. So a common way to report the heart rate would be to count the number of pulses that you feel in 15 seconds and then multiply that by four.

Scott Webb: Yeah. You were mentioning that we should practice something like this and I was practicing with you and I was checking my own heart rate while you were speaking and you’re right. It's pretty simple. I've had it done to me. I don't think I've ever actually done it to myself. So, good to know I can use that on my kids if I need to.

Dr. Colin Kane: Right.

Scott Webb: Yeah. And you were mentioning earlier the irregularities or things outside the norm for kids. So what should parents do if they find that their child has a rapid heartbeat?

Dr. Colin Kane: It kind of depends on the situation and it depends on how fast the heart rate is. A general rule of thumb to keep in mind is that if you're checking your child's heart rate and it's just too fast to count, it’s going too fast to even keep up while that child is calm and at rest, then that can be the sign of a problem. And that should, prompt you to seek some medical attention.

There are some abnormally fast heart rates from, arrhythmias that can present that way. and you shouldn't really wait around get that one checked out later. You should seek attention pretty quickly there. And then, likewise, if a child is having difficulty breathing or chest pain with fast heart rate, or if they just appear really sick and they look really ill, they probably should seek medical attention.

More mild elevations in heart rate, maybe that's associated with some fever or some of these other things that we talked about, that can probably just be watched at home and then discussed with their primary care doctor if they have concerns.

Scott Webb: Before we wrap up here, anything else you'd like to tell parents when it comes to heart rate, how to check it, when to be alarmed, when to see a professional, that kind of thing?

Dr. Colin Kane: think I would just probably like to reiterate a little bit of what we've said before that, most of the time a child's heart rate is going to increase, not because of a heart problem, but usually in response to some other factor like we had talked about. And slow heart rates are often a sign of a really healthy heart that's beating efficiently, you know, as we talked about with athletic kids.   but occasionally abnormal heart rates or abnormally slow heart rates can be a sign of concern and usually the primary care provider is the best person to speak with first. And certainly if they have any concerns and, a cardiologist is easy to find and help you out.

Scott Webb: Thanks again for your time today, Dr. Kane and you stay well. And thanks everybody for listening to Children's Health Checkup. For more information, go to I'm Scott Web. Stay well.