Emerg Med J doi:10.1136/emermed-2011-200242
  • Original article

Paediatric arrhythmias in the emergency department

  1. Franz E Babl1,3,4
  1. 1Emergency Department, Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  2. 2Paediatric Cardiology Department, Oxford Radcliffe NHS Trust, Oxford, UK
  3. 3Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  4. 4University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  1. Correspondence toAssoc Prof Franz E Babl, Paediatric Emergency Physician, Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, Victoria 3052, Australia; franz.babl{at}
  1. Contributors HC: design, methods, ethics, data acquisition, analysis, data interpretation, drafting. TT: methods, analysis. KJ: data acquisition, analysis. FEB: design, methods, ethics, data interpretation, drafting.

  • Accepted 19 August 2011
  • Published Online First 21 September 2011


Objective Emergency department (ED) staff need to rapidly establish accurate diagnosis and management for children with arrhythmias. Limited data are available on the presenting features, epidemiology and management of arrhythmias encountered in the ED. The aim of this study was to characterise the incidence, presenting features, management and outcomes of arrhythmias at a large tertiary children's hospital ED.

Patients and methods Retrospective review of medical records identified via the ED electronic database using ICD-10 codes for arrhythmias including cardiac arrests over a 6-year period (2002–2008). Patients <18 years were analysed using predefined criteria.

Results There were a total of 444 non-arrest arrhythmias with an incidence of 11.5:10 000 presentations. Median age of patients at presentation was 10.4 years; 45% were male. Supraventricular arrhythmias (SVTs) represented the largest subgroup (n=250, 56%). Conduction disorders (n=18), ventricular tachycardia (n=17) and atrial flutter/fibrillation (n=7) were rare. There were 19 cardiac arrests. Fifty-seven (13%) patients had underlying congenital heart disease. For ongoing SVT (n=135), vagal manoeuvres were used in 74%, and antiarrhythmic drugs in 64%. In five patients with SVT, drugs other than adenosine were used. Defibrillators were used only on 2 occasions for arrthymias and 6 times for cardiac arrests. 18 of 19 children in cardiac arrest died.

Conclusion In this largest paediatric series outside the intensive care and postoperative setting, arrhythmias were uncommon, defibrillator use was very rare, and observed mortality was low.


  • Funding Murdoch Children's Research Institute.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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