Little Hearts, Big Concerns: Heart Disease in Children
When we think of heart disease, we often think of older adults. The fact is, children can also have heart disease. They may be born with it (a congenital heart defect), or it may be acquired from infections or another medical condition or illness.
Congenital heart defects
Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are the most common type of birth defect in the U.S. Nearly one in 100 babies, or 40,000 each year, will have a congenital heart defect.
Congenital heart defects are present at birth. They include deformities in the heart’s structure, electrical system, and other abnormalities that affect cardiac function.
Congenital heart defects are approximately 60 times more prevalent than childhood cancer.
Signs of possible congenital heart disease
If your child shows any of these signs, call your child's doctor for an evaluation:
- pale gray or blue skin color (cyanosis)
- rapid breathing
- swelling in the legs, abdomen, or areas around the eyes
- shortness of breath during feedings, leading to poor weight gain
- heart murmurs: a “whooshing” sound made by blood circulating, usually harmless in children, though may signal an underlying problem
Other types of heart disease in children
While some children are born with a heart defect, other heart diseases can affect children too, including:
- arrhythmias: an abnormal heart rhythm
- Kawasaki disease: a rare disease that causes fever and inflammation in the blood vessels in the hands, feet, mouth, lips, and throat; most often seen in children under the age of five
- rheumatic heart disease: caused by the same bacteria (streptococcus) that cause strep throat and scarlet fever
- cardiomyopathy: disease of the heart muscle leading to thickening or enlargement of the heart chambers
Symptoms of possible heart disease in older children
These signs may be associated with heart disease in older children and should be discussed with their pediatrician:
- shortness of breath with activity
- turning blue (cyanosis)
- chest pain with exercise
- palpitations — heart skipping a beat or beating abnormally
- dizziness with exercise
- passing out
The Pediatric Heart Center
If your child has a heart condition, our team of experts is here to care for your child’s cardiac needs. Our comprehensive team at the Pediatric Heart Center at Hasbro Children's Hospital includes physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, sonographers, exercise physiologists, medical assistants, and research technicians. Thanks to our years of experience and advances in medicine, many children with a heart condition can go on to have long, full lives. We are here to help them along the way.
- Outpatient care, including same-day appointments for urgent issues
- Inpatient care with a board-certified pediatric cardiologist on call 24/7 for all emergencies
- Evaluation and testing programs for all forms of cardiac problems, including heart ultrasound, fetal imaging, electrical monitoring, exercise and testing
- Transition program for young adults with congenital heart defects
- Mental health and psychosocial support for patients with cardiac concerns
- Follow Your Heart Camp for children to have fun while learning the basics about their heart condition
- Preventative lipid clinic for patients with cholesterol problems
- Fetal cardiac imaging clinic to evaluate for congenital heart defects during pregnancy
- Satellite sites in East Greenwich and Lincoln, Rhode Island, and Fall River, Massachusetts
Learn more about how we care for children and their hearts on the Pediatric Heart Center website.
About the Author:
Brett Goudie, MD, and Jonathan David Nyce, MD
Dr. Jonathan David Nyce is a pediatric cardiologist with the Pediatric Heart Center at Hasbro Children's Hospital.
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