Cardiovascular health is something you may not think about in regard to your young children. But did you know that heart disease is possible and even common in children?
Types of Heart Disease in Children
- Congenital – Each year, thousands of children are born with congenital heart conditions and defects, including patent ductus arteriosus and atrial septal defects. While many of these are diagnosed at birth, some are not discovered until much later in life.
- Acquired – While cardiovascular disease is typically something that affects adults, there are some conditions that children can acquire as well. The most common acquired heart diseases in children are rheumatic heart disease and Kawasaki disease.
Signs of Heart Disease in Children
Some of the most common indicators that your child could be experiencing a heart issue include:
- Trouble with weight gain (especially in babies)
- Shortness of breath, even at rest
- Persistent respiratory issues
- Tiring easily during physical activity
- Passing out during physical activity
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain
Signs of heart disease can mimic other conditions, so it is always important to consult with your child’s pediatrician or a specialist for a thorough diagnosis.
Diagnosis of Heart Disease in Children
Your child’s doctor may run a series of tests to identify and diagnose any potential heart problems. These tests include:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG) – This non-invasive test works by recording the heart’s electrical activity through painless patches on the skin. This test can be done quickly in a doctor’s office and allows for heartbeat and rhythm to be monitored and captured.
- Echocardiogram – This test is also non-invasive but usually requires the assistance of a technician or specialist in a lab. Just like the ultrasound images you may have received before your child’s birth, an echo of the heart uses sound waves to create an image of the heart and diagnose potential heart problems.
- Cardiac catheterization- Some suspected heart issues require cardiac catheterization, in which a thin tube is inserted through the groin to the heart via a blood vessel. This allows doctors to get a much more detailed view of the heart, and even allows for some minor surgical procedures to be completed at the same time, such as closing a heart defect. This test is typically done in a hospital or catheterization lab.
- Chest X-ray – Chest X-rays help doctors detect things like the presence of excess fluid or an enlarged heart. An X-ray is sometimes the first step before more invasive procedures.
- Chest MRI -Your child’s doctor may even order an MRI to evaluate the structure of your child’s heart. This is because an MRI can provide better imaging than other methods.
Treatment of Heart Disease in Children
Some heart conditions will resolve on their own with time, while others may require medication or surgery. With technological advances, many heart procedures are minimally invasive and can be done via catheterization in an out-patient cardiology lab. Other conditions simply call for long-term monitoring and lifestyle adjustments to ensure good cardiovascular health. In rare cases, open-heart surgery or even a heart transplant may be needed to stabilize your child’s heart.