Detecting Heart Problems in Children

by Jill Taylor on January 28, 2014

in Medical Information

boyWhen you hear a child’s heartbeat for the first time it is something special. It’s a sign of life, love and connection.

During a baby’s prenatal care, the heart is monitored closely for any problems or irregularities. Pediatric Cardiologist John E. Pliska, MD specializes in heart conditions at McLane Children’s Scott & White and discusses heart diseases and defects in children.

“Heart problems can be detected at any age, including prenatally,” says Dr. Pliska. “Approximately 0.8% of children are born with a congenital heart defect (of varying severity). Other children develop heart disease, either due to genetics or acquired through infection.”

Finding a Heart Problem Before Birth

A congenital heart problem is a defect or disease that your child is born with. The most common are ventricular septal defects or atrial septal defects, which keep your child’s heart from pumping normally.

If one of the baby’s parents has a heart defect, the risk is increased. As you attend your prenatal checkups and your doctor monitors the sound and size of your baby’s growth, you will be made aware of any potential heart conditions or problems.

Symptoms of Heart Problems After Birth

“After birth, heart problems are usually detected by exam findings such as heart murmurs, or evidence of poor perfusion or abnormal heart rhythm,” says Dr. Pliska.

If your baby has symptoms of heart problems they may include:

  • Poor feeding
  • Poor perfusion, meaning blood vessels have a hard time pumping liquid into organs or tissues
  • Cyanosis, a discoloration of the skin from poor circulation or not enough oxygen in the baby’s blood
  • Respiratory problems

What to Look for in Older Children

There are some genetic heart diseases that may not be evident until the patient is several years old or a teenager or young adult (cardiomyopathy or muscular dystrophies).

Even if your child is not at risk for heart diseases or defects, there are also acquired heart diseases which can occur due to infections. These can occur in any child (myocarditis or Kawasaki disease).

In order to detect heart problems in older children a murmur may be heard on an exam, or your child may have some symptoms of heart disease.

In later childhood, heart disease symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitation, or abnormality of heartbeat
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Fainting
  • Poor growth

“Heart disease overall in children isn’t common but when it does occur it can be very serious so it is important to have symptoms of possible heart disease or significant murmurs evaluated comprehensively by a physician or pediatric cardiologist,” says Dr. Pliska.

Be Open with your Pediatrician

“Parents should express any concerns about symptoms seen in their children to their pediatrician who will evaluate the patient and determine if other testing or evaluation by a specialist is needed,” explains Dr. Pliska.

As you bring your child in yearly for well-child visits, be sure to ask your doctor if anything seemed irregular. Heart problems in children are followed closely and usually don’t need intervention, limits or medication for the heart disease or problem.

Awareness is key, because you will be able to help guide your child in appropriate activities and know what to look for if problems arise.

Success of Treatments Lead to Brighter Futures

Due to the great successes of medical, interventional and surgical treatments for congenital heart disease, there are more adults with congenital heart disease alive today than children with congenital heart disease.

“Many of these patients are doing quite well as adults,” says Dr. Pliska, “But need to be aware of limitations or risks for long term problems in order to live healthy lives.”

Some children need to be treated with medications for heart failure or irregular heart beat (arrhythmia). Others may need special intervention or surgeries to repair the defect and get the heart functioning normally again.

“In general the treatment recommended is to allow as many patients with heart problems to be able to be active and to have normal lives as much as possible,” says Dr. Pliska.

If you suspect a heart problem in your child, make an online appointment or call 877-724-KIDS.

Previous post:

Next post: