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Pediatric Cardiology: The Key to Monitoring Children's Heart Health

By Stephanie Dube Dwilson September 07, 2017 Posted in: Heart Health , Article

Doctors who specialize in pediatric cardiology save children's lives every year. Heart conditions, whether acquired or congenital, can impact the health of children in the same way they do older adults. Pediatric care can be vital in the health of your child's heart, with treatments available for a variety of conditions. But which heart conditions are pediatric cardiologists most frequently tasked with managing and treating? Here are some of the conditions most frequently encountered by pediatric cardiologists.

Congenital Heart Defects

The most common source of pediatric heart issues is a congenital heart defect (CHD). About 40,000 babies born in the United States each year have CHDs, and about 25 percent of those have a critical form that requires surgery or another type of intervention. You might be surprised to learn that only about 15 percent of CHDs are genetic. Screening newborns for critical CHDs is vital because problems might not show up until after the baby has been sent home. If the problem is caught early, the chance of survival is greater. Pulse oximetry is one type of screening that can detect some CHDs. This, in conjunction with prenatal screening, can make a big difference in a baby's health and treatment.

There are 18 types of congenital heart defects commonly seen by pediatric cardiologists, but the most common congenital heart defect is a ventricular septal defect: a hole in the septum that separates the lower chambers of the heart. It forces the heart and lungs to work harder and, if untreated, may lead to heart complications like arrhythmia and stroke. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, fast breathing, sweating, fatigue, and poor weight gain. A heart murmur can point to this defect. Sometimes no treatment is needed if the hole is small because it will eventually close on its own, but surgery may be needed for larger holes to restore normal blood flow.

Irregular Heartbeats in Children

Pediatric cardiologists may also treat an irregular heartbeat, which is known as an arrhythmia. This can involve the heart either beating too fast or too slow. Typically, the first course of treatment is medication. Because of potential side effects, a child might spend some time in the hospital while adjusting to the medicine. Another possible treatment is radiofrequency ablation, which sends out short radio wave bursts to a heart muscle that's beating too fast. In contrast, when a child's heart is beating too slowly, they may be given a pacemaker.

Other Causes of Heart Problems in Children

Congenital defects aren't the only source of pediatric heart problems. In very rare cases, a strep infection or virus can damage a normal heart. Other conditions, like severe anemia or Kawasaki disease, can also damage a child's heart. But these cases are much more rare than congenital defects.

Children with diseases like leukemia may also be at risk because the medications they take can sometimes damage heart muscles. Muscular dystrophy may also lead to heart problems over time in some children. In rare cases, chest trauma can also cause pediatric heart problems. In all these cases, early treatment and intervention can help with recovery.

Treating Heart Failure in Children

In a worst-case scenario, damage or abnormalities in the heart may lead to heart failure. This may sound dire, but there are many treatments and plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Doctors may prescribe medication at first to lower blood pressure and help the heart. Nutritional supplements may also be prescribed since severe heart conditions can lead to slowed growth. A child may need to go on a low-salt, low-fat diet. In some cases, surgery, ablation, or a pacemaker is needed to treat the issue.

There are numerous causes of heart disease in children, but most pediatric cardiology cases revolve around congenital defects. Although these conditions may sound scary, the more minor issues can actually resolve on their own. Cardiologists have developed a series of different treatments for more critical conditions, providing children with a greater chance of living a long and happy life.

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