From wellness visits, to screenings, to treatment, kids born with a heart condition will benefit from various forms of special care.
By Pediatric cardiology and cardiovascular surgery experts at Texas Children’s Hospital
According to the National Institutes of Health, congenital heart disease is responsible for more deaths in the first year of life than any other birth defect. This is why it’s vital for parents to be aware of the screening tools and standard of care available to help identify potential heart issues their children may have.
Congenital heart disease is the phrase used to describe any heart condition a child is born with. Though usually diagnosed after birth, some defects can be detected in utero. There are screening practices in place as part of the standard of care for pregnant women. If you test positive during these screenings, or if there is another reason that indicates further evaluation, your physician will conduct appropriate testing or refer you to a specialist.
After birth, an echocardiogram (which is a term used to describe an ultrasound of the heart) is used to identify heart abnormalities and a pediatric cardiologist can then work with you to determine a treatment plan for your child. The good news is most heart abnormalities are treatable.
Since most heart conditions in children are identified after birth, it is critical to follow the suggested well child visit schedule. During these visits your pediatrician will conduct a physical exam on your baby which can help to identify potential issues early on. In addition to a physical exam where your child’s physician listens to their heart via stethoscope, both electrocardiograms (ECG) and echocardiograms are used to diagnose children with heart problems. An ECG measures the electrical activity and rate of the heart while the echocardiogram provides imagery physicians use to detect structural and mechanical abnormalities and assess heart function.
Many parents have heard of heart murmurs, which describes an atypical heart sound, and are concerned about this for their child. It’s important to know not all children with heart murmurs have a cardiac disease; there are many instances when children may have innocent murmurs. For others, heart murmurs can indicate structural heart problems. In either case, a pediatric cardiologist will follow up on any abnormal findings and work with your family on an appropriate follow up or treatment plan should that be needed.
If your child is diagnosed with a heart problem it is important to seek out at an institution with extensive experience in treating pediatric heart conditions and one with proven successful outcomes. Texas Children’s Hospital pioneered many of the now-standard procedures and therapies related to the diagnosis and treatment of children with cardiac problems and pediatric heart surgery has been performed at Texas Children’s since it opened in 1954.
Parents should know that to some extent, heart diseases in children are preventable. It’s important to avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs while pregnant as these can increase your child’s risk of developing a heart complication. Regardless of the precautions you take, heart disease can still affect some children. It is also important to keep in mind a healthy lifestyle protects the heart and it starts in infancy and childhood, leading to prevention of heart disease that typically occurs in adult life. Keeping scheduled checkups are critical to identifying issues early on. Ask your pediatrician if you have any questions.