Heart Disease in Children
disease is difficult enough when it strikes adults, but it can be especially
tragic in children.
many different types of heart problems that can affect children. They include
congenital heart defects, viral infections that affect the heart, and even heart
disease acquired later in childhood due to illnesses or genetic syndromes.
news is that with advances in medicine and technology, many children with heart
disease go on to live active, full lives.
Congenital Heart Disease
heart disease is a type of heart disease that children are born with, usually
caused by heart defects that are present at birth.
In fact, the
most common heart conditions found in children are structural heart defects,
which occur in roughly 8 of 1,000 live births. These usually involve a problem
with the heart muscle or the heart valves, and include:
valve conditions like a narrowing of the aortic valve, which restricts blood
flow, or a mitral valve prolapse, where the mitral valve leaks
in the wall that separates the left and right sides of the heart (the septum)
congenital heart defects that affect children include:
left heart syndrome (HLHS), where the left side of the heart is underdeveloped
in the heart, typically in the walls between the chambers and between major blood
vessels leaving the heart; they include ventricular septal defects, atrial
septal defects, and patent ductus ateriosus
of Fallot, which is a combination of four defects, including a hole in the
ventricular septum, a narrowed passage between the right ventricle,
pulmonary artery, a thickened right side of the heart, and a displaced aorta
heart defects may have long-term effects on a child’s health. They’re usually
treated with surgery, catheter procedures, medications, and in severe cases,
children will require lifelong monitoring and treatment.
is the term used to describe the buildup of fat and cholesterol-filled plaques
inside the arteries. As the buildup increases, arteries become stiffened and
narrowed, which increases the risk of blood clots and heart attacks. It
typically takes many years for atherosclerosis to develop. It’s unusual for
children or teenagers to suffer from it.
obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and other health issues put children at higher
risk. Doctors recommend screening for high cholesterol and high blood pressure
in children who have risk factors like family history of heart disease or
diabetes and are overweight or obese.
typically involves lifestyle changes like increased exercise and dietary
arrhythmia is an abnormal rhythm of the heart. This can cause the heart to pump
different types of arrhythmias may occur in children, including:
fast heart rate (tachycardia)
slow heart rate (bradycardia)
Q-T Syndrome (LQTS)
syndrome (WPW syndrome)
depend on the type of arrhythmia and how it’s affecting the child’s health.
Though not a
type of heart disease specifically, this syndrome typically indicates a problem
with the heart. Eisenmenger’s is actually a collection of three symptoms,
- cyanosis, pale blue or grayish skin due to
decreased oxygen in the blood
- pulmonary hypertension, high blood pressure in the
blood vessels of the lungs
- polycythaemia, excess number of red blood cells
syndrome may affect adolescents and adults with certain congenital heart
defects that were repaired later in life or were never repaired. However, it
can also occur in newborns born with pulmonary hypertension.
Eisenmenger syndrome is a sign that the blood isn’t flowing correctly from the
left to the right side of the heart. Left untreated, it can cause blood clots,
stroke, and kidney failure.
usually depends on the symptoms and involves medications to decrease pulmonary
hypertension, supplemental oxygen, and sometimes a removal of blood to reduce
the excess number of circulating red blood cells (phlebotomy).
This is a rare
disease that primarily affects children and can cause inflammation in the blood
vessels in the hands, feet, mouth, lips, and throat. It also produces a fever
and swelling in the lymph nodes. Researchers aren’t sure yet what causes it.
the American Heart Association (AHA), the illness is a major cause of
heart conditions in as many as 1 in 5 children. Most are under the age of 5.
depends on the extent of the disease, but is often prompt treatment with IV
gamma globulin or aspirin. Corticosteroids can sometimes reduce future
complications. Children who suffer from the disease often require lifelong
follow-up appointments to keep an eye on heart health.
murmur is a “whooshing” sound made by blood circulating through the heart’s
chambers, valves, or through blood vessels near the heart. Sometimes it’s
harmless. Other times it may signal an underlying cardiovascular problem.
murmurs may be caused by congenital heart defects, fever, or anemia. If a
doctor hears a heart murmur in a child, they’ll perform additional tests to be
sure the heart is healthy. “Innocent” heart murmurs usually resolve by
themselves, but others may require additional treatment.
condition occurs when the thin sac or membrane that surrounds the heart
(pericardium) becomes inflamed or infected. The amount of fluid between its two
layers increases, impairing the heart’s ability to pump blood like it should.
may occur after surgery to repair a congenital heart defect, or it may be
caused by infections, chest traumas, or connective tissue disorders like lupus.
Treatments depend on the severity of the disease, the child’s age, and their
Rheumatic Heart Disease
untreated, the streptococcus bacteria that cause strep throat and scarlet fever
can also cause rheumatic heart disease.
can seriously and permanently damage the heart muscle (myocarditis) and the
heart valves. According to Seattle Children’s Hospital, rheumatic fever typically
occurs in children ages 5 to 15, but usually the symptoms of rheumatic heart
disease don’t show up for 10 to 20 years after the original illness.
can be prevented by promptly treating strep throat with antibiotics.
addition to causing respiratory illness or the flu, can also affect heart
infections can cause heart muscle inflammation (myocarditis), which may affect
the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body. Viral infections of the
heart are rare and may show few symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they’re similar
to flu-like symptoms, including fatigue, shortness of breath, and chest
discomfort. Treatment involves medications and treatments for the symptoms of