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What are the causes of cardiac arrest in children and infants?

Mark Sklansky, MD
Pediatric Cardiology
Sudden cardiac arrest occurs much less commonly in infants and children than in adults. Nevertheless, sudden cardiac arrest in infants and children does occur, typically because of either respiratory failure (many various causes), overwhelming infection or because of an intrinsic abnormality of the heart. Cardiac abnormalities predisposing to cardiac arrest may be electrical, such as:
  • long QT syndrome, a condition that causes fast, erratic heartbeats- sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT)
  • Wolf-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome
Or, these abnormalities can be structural, including:
  • arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD)
  • hypertrophic or dilated cardiomyopathy (HCM or DCM)
  • coronary artery abnormalities
  • myocarditis
Sudden cardiac death in children, more commonly than in adults, may be associated with genetic abnormalities, so consideration should be given to screening family members of children with sudden cardiac arrest.
It is rare for a child or an infant to initially suffer a cardiac emergency. Usually, a child or an infant has a respiratory emergency first and then a cardiac emergency develops.

Causes of cardiac arrest in children and infants include:
  • Airway and breathing problems.
  • Traumatic injury or an accident (e.g., motor-vehicle collision, drowning, electrocution or poisoning).
  • A hard blow to the chest.
  • Congenital heart disease.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.