Overview of heart problems in children
Congenital malformations are abnormalities in the formation of the heart and/or its main blood vessels. These heart problems occur at birth in eight out of 1,000 babies, but go undiagnosed for many years. The abnormalities range from simple defects, such as a small hole in the wall between the two chambers of the heart, to more complex problems.
Although congenital heart defects are one of the most common birth defects, it can be difficult to know if your child has one. Most heart problems recover during pregnancy or immediately after birth, but others may not be apparent until the baby is a little older.
Heart disease in children
Heart disease is very difficult when touched by adults, but it is especially tragic in children. Heart disease can occur for a variety of reasons, from viral infections to chromosomal abnormalities, and can arise as problems secondary to other diseases or conditions in the body. In most cases, the cause of heart disease is unknown.
The good news is that with the advancement of medicine and technology, many children with heart disease are living full and active lives.
Causes of heart problems in children
A congenital heart defect is a condition (or one of the main heart problems in children) that you are born into. Certain genetic (inherited) diseases or disorders, such as Down syndrome, are associated with congenital heart defects. Certain substances or diseases that a pregnant woman is exposed to can cause congenital heart defects in the fetus, some of which include prescription drugs, rubella (German measles), and uncontrolled diabetes.
Risk factors for heart problems in children
Risk factors for these heart problems in children are divided into two categories: major and contributing. The major risk factors of heart problems in children have been shown to increase your risk of heart disease. There is a risk of heart disease due to proportionate risk factors.
If you have higher risk factors, you are more likely to have heart disease. Some risk factors of heart problems in children can change, treat, or modify and others cannot. But by controlling as many risk factors as possible through lifestyle changes, medications, or both, you can lower your risk of heart disease.
Major risk factors for heart problems in children are:
- High blood pressure (Hypertension)
- High blood cholesterol
- Obesity and Overweight
- Physical Inactivity
Contributing risk factors to heart problems in children are:
- Sex hormones
- Birth control pills
Symptoms of heart problems in children
- Heart murmurs (abnormal heartbeats), depending on the location and nature of the disorder.
- Symptoms of cardiac arrest, increased breathing rate, shortness of breath, tachycardia
- “Blue baby” syndrome, in which the skin changes color from lack of oxygen to blue or purple.
- Clubfoot or spread with a nail that extends the fingers and toes
- An abnormal increase in red blood cell circulation.
- Liver dilation
- Pulse that is hard to hear or has no pulse
- Cold hands and feet
- Signs of organ failure, including low urine output or kidney failure
- The expansion of the heart’s chambers results in the need to work harder to overcome the defect.
Diagnosis of heart problems in children
To diagnose a congenital heart defect or any heart problems in children, your doctor may recommend that you or your baby have some of the following tests and procedures:
- Echocardiography: Track your / your child’s progress over time to diagnose or not diagnose heart failure. Fetal echocardiography can sometimes diagnose congenital heart defects before the baby is born.
- Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG): To evaluate the rhythm of the heartbeat.
- Cardiac catheterization: Measure the pressure and oxygen levels within the chambers of the heart and blood vessels. This helps to know if blood is flowing from the left side of the heart to the right side of the heart instead of going to the rest of the body.
- Chest X-ray: To show if the heart is dilated. It also shows whether there is excess blood flow or excess fluid in the lungs, which is a sign of heart failure.
- Genetic testing: To find out if specific genes or genetic syndromes like Down syndrome are causing congenital heart defects. Your doctor can refer you or your child to a genetic testing specialist.
- Cardiac MRI: Track your / your child’s progress over time to diagnose heart failure or not.
- Pulse oximetry: Estimate the amount of oxygen in the blood. The small sensor is placed on the hand or foot of the baby or on the finger or toe of the elderly person.
Treatment for heart problems in children
Treatment for heart problems in children depends on the part of the heart affected. Some children do not need treatment if the effect on blood flow is minimal. Others require medication or intervention, such as cardiac catheterization or surgery. Some heart problems in children may not be treated right away, but wait until the child is an adult. Some heart problems in children are dealt with in stages. In such cases, there are options:
● Medications: Many medications help the heart work more efficiently. Some are also useful for preventing blood clots and controlling irregular heartbeats.
● Implantable heart devices: Some devices, such as pacemakers, can help control abnormal heart rates and implantable cardiovascular defibrillators (ICDs), which can correct irregular heart rates and prevent some of the problems associated with congenital heart defects.
● Catheter procedures: These allow doctors to surgically correct or repair congenital heart defects without opening the chest or heart. Here, the doctor inserts a catheter through a vein in the leg to guide the heart. Using small tools threaded through the catheter, he/she proceeds to correct the error. With the advancement of technology, many heart defects can be closed at the cathode in cathode procedures. This reduces the risks and complications of heart surgery.
● Open-heart surgery: These may be necessary if catheter procedures do not correct the error. These can close the openings of the heart, dilate the blood vessels, or repair the heart valves.
● Heart transplant: In cases where the congenital heart defect is too difficult to repair, a heart transplant may be used. In the process, the healthy donor heart replaces the patient’s heart.
Complications of heart problems in children
Congenital heart disease or heart problems in children can cause complications including:
- Arrhythmia: The heart may beat very fast, very slow, or abnormally due to a defect or scarring after surgery.
- Congestive heart failure: When the heart cannot efficiently pump oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body, symptoms affect various body systems.
- Heart infections (endocarditis): This infection of the thin layer that lines the inside of the heart occurs when bacteria or other germs enter the bloodstream from another part of the body and remain in the heart. If left untreated, it can damage your heart valves or lead to a stroke.
- Pulmonary hypertension: This type of high blood pressure only affects the arteries in the lungs. Some heart defects cause more blood to flow to the lungs. As pressure increases, the heart has to work harder, causing the muscles to weaken and sometimes fail. Permanent damage to the pulmonary artery can also occur.
- Slower growth and development: Children with severe congenital heart defects may be younger and learn to walk and talk later than other children.
- Stroke: Although rare, blood clots can travel to the brain through a hole in the heart or occur during corrective surgery.