Heart disease in kids can be tragic. Most types of heart illnesses may affect children, including viral infections, congenital heart defects, and heart diseases acquired later in childhood due to genetic syndromes or illnesses. The good news is with today’s advancements in technology, some kids with heart diseases can go on to live active lives.
Generally, heart conditions can be treated with surgery, medicine, and other medical procedures. The majority of tests for heart diseases are simple and painless.
While you can consult a general physician to diagnose your child’s heart problem, it’s better to consult a pediatric cardiologist. Most of these professionals work in specialty health centers, similar to https://www.idahofallscommunityhospital.com/hospital-services/idaho-falls-community-hospital-pediatric-specialty-center/.
To know more information about heart disease in children, read this comprehensive guide.
Risk Factors For Heart Disease In Kids
Obesity may cause heart disease and may result in other health problems such as elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. They often start in childhood and persist in adulthood.
Family history and genetics may also increase the risk of heart illnesses in children. In this case, families should take action to avoid any heart condition immediately. If possible, tell the pediatrician about your family’s medical history.
Signs And Symptoms Of Heart Disease In Kids
Besides affecting child development and growth, heart disease may also lead to life-threatening complications. If you notice the signs and symptoms, parents should seek urgent medical attention to get timely and accurate diagnostic tests, ensuring effective and appropriate treatment.
Some of the signs that indicate heart disease in children include the following:
- Irregular heart sounds accompanied with or without other symptoms
- Feeling weak or tired easily
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Presence of purple or grayish-blue skin
- Rapid heartbeats, frequent syncope, dizziness, and heart palpitations can be due to heart rhythm problems.
Other than the above warning signs, kids with heart diseases, particularly heart failure, could present poor feeding, breathing troubles, limited growth, and impaired child development, unlike normal kids of similar age.
Common Heart Diseases In Children
Some of the common types of heart disease in children may include the following:
1. Congenital Heart Disease (CHD)
Also referred to as congenital heart defect, congenital heart disease is an abnormality of the heart present at birth. This may affect the blood vessels, heart valves, and heart walls. Generally, CHD happens due to the heart’s early developmental problem. It interferes with the blood’s normal flow through the heart, affecting the child’s breathing.
There are several types of CHD, ranging from simple conditions that don’t have symptoms to more complex issues that cause life-threatening and severe symptoms. Often, a CHD is detected through a pregnancy ultrasound.
For example, if the doctor hears abnormalities in the child’s heartbeat, they may need to investigate the problem by performing other tests. They may include a chest X-ray, echocardiogram, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Depending on the diagnosis, the doctor will ensure the appropriate specialists are present during delivery.
In other cases, the symptoms of CHD may not appear until after birth. Newborns with CHD may experience delayed growth, chest pain, bluish skin, and trouble breathing.
CHD might not have long-term effects on the child’s overall health. When it comes to treatments, it can be treated with medications, catheter procedures, surgery, and heart transplants for severe cases. Other children with CHD may also require lifelong treatment and monitoring.
2. Kawasaki Disease
Kawasaki disease is a heart disease that causes swelling in the walls of blood vessels that carry blood throughout the body. It was previously known as mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome because it causes swelling in lymph nodes or glands and mucous membranes in the throat, nose, eyes, and mouth.
Kids with Kawasaki disease may suffer from high fever, peeling skin, swollen hands and feet, and red tongue and eyes. However, this heart condition is often treatable, and many children can recover without serious issues if they receive treatments within 10 days.
With treatment, some kids may experience lasting damage. Some of the heart complications that can be caused by Kawasaki disease include:
- Heart valve problems
- Heart muscle inflammation
- Blood vessel inflammation
These complications may damage the child’s heart and weaken the aneurysm or artery wall. Once it happens, it may increase the risk of blood clots, which may cause life-threatening bleeding or result in a heart attack. Kawasaki disease can be fatal for children who develop coronary artery issues and may cause death.
3. Viral Infections
Aside from causing flu and respiratory illnesses, viruses may also affect your child’s heart health. A viral infection may cause myocarditis, hindering the heart from pumping blood.
Unlike other heart diseases, viral inspections may show several symptoms and can be rare. Once symptoms appear, they may include chest discomfort, fatigue, and shortness of breath. The treatment for viral inspections may involve medications and similar treatments for myocarditis.
4. Rheumatic Heart Disease
It’s a heart disease that causes permanent damage to one’s heart valves. It may develop after the child suffers from rheumatic fever.
Rheumatic fever is the body's response to the throat’s strep infection, which is called strep throat. Scarlet fever may also follow after rheumatic fever. It may also affect the skin, joints, and tissues under the heart, brain, and skin. Once it affects the heart, it’s referred to as rheumatic heart disease.
Some of the signs and symptoms of rheumatic heart disease may include heart murmur, chest pain, trouble breathing, and swelling of the ankles and feet. The treatment for this heart disease may vary widely depending on the child’s age, general health, and symptoms. It’ll also depend on how serious the condition is.
Your child’s general physician will likely refer you to a pediatric cardiologist who specializes in treating heart conditions in children. Depending on the other symptoms, your child may need other specialists.
It’s an infection or inflammation of the pericardium, which is the thin membrane surrounding the heart. Once pericardium becomes inflamed, the fluid between its inner and outer layer increases, interfering with the heart’s ability to work properly.
Pericarditis in children may likely occur after surgery to fix congenital heart defects. However, some of its causes include chest injury or trauma, infection, and connective tissue disorders like lupus.
Every child with pericarditis may experience different symptoms such as:
- Chest pain
- Loss of appetite
- Low-grade fever
- Irregular heartbeat
Unfortunately, children might not be able to explain how they feel or whether they have chest pain. In most cases, children may express specific symptoms such as fatigue, loss of appetite, and irritability. So, once you notice such signs, consult a doctor immediately for a proper diagnosis.
The treatment for pericarditis may include surgery, removal of excess fluid, and medication. However, particular treatments for this condition will depend on the child’s medical history, age, and overall health.
When To See A Doctor
If your child experiences any of the symptoms of heart disease, visit your doctor immediately. Sometimes, general physicians will refer you to a pediatric cardiologist or pediatrician.
There are some tests performed to diagnose heart conditions. Most of these are painless, simple, and quick. These lab tests may include the following:
- Ultrasound Scan. This lab test uses a handheld scanner, which is placed on the stomach and chest and gives an image of the heart on a monitor. The child may feel pressure as the scanner is pushed firmly. It isn’t painful, but it can be a little uncomfortable.
- ECG (Electrocardiogram). The wires with sticky dots will be attached to the chest, legs, and arms. The wires will then record the heart’s electrical activity. The process is fast, and the child may not feel anything.
- X-Ray. It’s a quick and simple chest X-ray.
Since the child needs to lie still for such tests, some doctors give them sedation medicine to avoid unnecessary movements and make them fall asleep. Usually, sedation is a liquid that children can drink, and no needles are involved.
Prevention Of Heart Disease In Children
Although some heart diseases in children can’t be prevented because they happen before birth, it’s possible to prevent later damage to their hearts. For preventable heart diseases, lifestyle changes or healthy habits may help lessen the risk of developing a heart condition.
To keep your child’s heart healthy, here are some of the things you can do to reduce the risk of or prevent heart diseases:
1. Eat Healthy Food
A well-balanced diet is crucial for children to prevent heart diseases and encourage healthy development and growth. Diets that prevent heart disease contain two parts. The first part is maintaining the right level of daily calories. Eating too many calories may cause weight gain, affecting one’s heart health.
The second part is limiting fat intake. Children should avoid taking in too much fat, particularly saturated fats. It’s because saturated fats are solid at room temperature.
To create a heart-healthy diet for your children and boost their heart health, here are the guidelines to remember:
- Watch portion sizes.
- Feed your children mostly vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy, lean protein, and whole grains.
- Breastfeed babies as long as possible. Try breastfeeding your child for a year even if you introduce solid foods.
- Never let them consume too many sugary drinks. Instead, give them low-fat milk and encourage them to drink more water.
- Avoid fast food often. If you eat out, choose healthy options and keep the portion sizes reasonable. For example, choose a grilled chilled sandwich rather than a bacon cheeseburger.
2. Exercise Daily
Physical activity is a crucial component of your kid’s overall well-being. It helps strengthen their heart and body. Moreover, exercise helps kids prevent heart-related conditions related to a sedentary lifestyle and inactivity.
The more you encourage your children to exercise or play, the sooner they’ll see the benefits of outdoor activities such as hide and seek, bike rides, and soccer. So, let your children perform activities at least three days a week to strengthen their bones and keep their hearts healthy.
3. Be A Role Model
Typically, children follow or copy their parents’ moves, habits, and behaviors. Therefore, being a role model to your children is vital to keep them healthy and avoid potential heart illnesses.
For best results, incorporate enjoyable activities in your daily routine instead of doing something like a chore. When activities are enjoyable, they’re likely to continue exercising as their bodies release feel-good hormones during any physical activity. Any activity that gets you and your children’s hearts pumping is always an excellent choice.
4. Let Kids Sleep Well
Aside from daily exercise and eating healthy foods, a good night’s sleep can also make a difference in preventing heart disease in kids. Not getting enough sleep may result in obesity and high blood pressure, affecting your kid’s heart health.
Children need to rest to focus and relax. Having a bedtime habit will help them wake up and fall asleep at a similar time each day. In addition, set up your kid’s room as a dark and quiet place to help them enjoy a good night’s sleep.
5. Reduce Your Kid’s Couch Time
Even if children frequently need quiet time to read and do homework, sitting for a long period isn’t healthy. For this reason, monitor your children's time watching television, using the internet, and playing video games. Schedule regular family activities as often as possible to lessen your children's couch or screen time.
6. Consult A Cardiologist
A regular medical checkup should be one of your priorities as a parent to prevent potential heart problems in children. Such stethoscope tests aren’t only a formality but a crucial part of a comprehensive plan that’ll keep your kid’s overall health in check.
Once your family doctor or pediatrician discovers abnormalities indicating potential heart-related conditions, consult a cardiologist. A qualified heart doctor can guide you through the steps that should be taken to ensure your kid’s heart gets the appropriate treatment and care.
While some heart diseases in children don’t have long-term effects on their health and may safely go untreated, other conditions may require immediate medical attention. Regardless of the case, an annual health checkup is essential. If abnormal symptoms or signs persist, consult a highly experienced and reliable pediatric cardiologist so that your child will receive effective treatment immediately.