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Symptoms for Heart problems in Children & Treatment Options

Heart defects in kids have become an evident fact in the modern life. Medical research groups estimate that 1 in every 100 kids has heart defects and most of these are easily treatable.

“My son Rehan aspired to be a cricketer. His friends claimed that he bowled quicker than any of them. Everything was going fine, before one day he was carried home by his coach. He had collapsed on the field. Just as a precaution we took him to a doctor, and then the testing times began for us. He was diagnosed with a severe heart condition. But, luckily medical intervention on time helped him get back to normal life.

Arshad Quereshi, Delhi

Symptoms of Heart Defects in Kids

For Babies

Many babies might appear quite healthy to their parents, and their inability to narrate their difficulties makes detection of heart defects in kids very difficult. But if the baby shows any of the below given signs, parents should get proactive:

  • Blue Baby or Cyanosis: If the skin and lip area of your infant is blue in colour it is a clear sign of heart defect. Blue colour of skin is caused by low supply of oxygen to the body.
  • Congestive Heart Failure: If the baby is not feeding well, there is a big problem. A baby needs to feed well to grow, but due to this condition the body of the baby is not able to keep up with the circulation needs.
  • Tachypnea or Fast Breathing: If the baby is breathing very fasting and it appears as though he/she is panting, then heart defect is the culprit. Due to poor feeding and insufficient supply of oxygen, the baby does not get sufficient energy. So, it starts breathing hard.
  • Diaphoresis: If the baby has excessive sweating while feeding it also a sign for heart defect.

For Toddlers

Though the kids in this age group feel and express their discomfort, but their vocabulary is not strong enough to correctly describe the problem. The symptoms to watch out for in this age include:

  • Fatigue: Toddlers are meant to wear out their parents with their energy, if a kid gets tired too soon or faces shortness of breath than parent’s better watch out.
  • Arrhythmia or Abnormal heart beat: At times the kid’s heart beat is abnormally fast and it does not reside quickly. Though, physical activity can often lead to fast heartbeat, but parents need to monitor it.
  • Syncope or Passing out: Often the kids are not afraid to participate in accelerated physical activity though their body is not permitting them. This leads to passing out, and can be a signal for heart defects. But this symptom occurs quite rarely in kids of this age group.
  • Seizures: Seizures caused to toddlers are mostly associated with cardiac defects and they should be followed by inspection by a medical practitioner.

For older children and teenagers

Here are the symptoms that need to be monitored for:

  • Arrhythmia or Abnormal heart beat: If the heartbeat of a kid is fast and it takes abnormally long time to reside then it is a clear sign of heart defect.
  • Syncope or Passing out: At times, the kids may pass out when they are participating in over strenuous physical activities. It is one of the common symptoms for the kids in this age group.
  • Shortness of Breath: If the child suffers from shortness of breath even when his/her body is not pushed to the extremes of physical limits. But as a parent, one should be able to distinguish this symptom as a sign for heart defect or asthma.
  • Chest Pain: This symptom is rarely seen in kids, but may happen while exercising.

Diagnosis of Heart Defect

If any of the above mentioned symptoms are seen, the kid should be taken to a reputed Paediatrician without any further delays. If you are confused over the symptom, even then take the kid for a check-up. The doctor may suggest the following simple and not painful tests:

  • Chest x-ray
  • ECG
  • Ultrasound scan

Types of Heart Defects in Children

There are mainly seven types of heart defects reported in kids. These are:

  • Congenital Heart Disease: This is the most common heart defects and medical research identifies that 8 in every 1000 babies can carry this type of defect. Such babies are born with heart defects such as heart valve problem, defects in the wall, Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), holes in the heart and Tetralogy of Fallot.
  • Atherosclerosis: This heart defect is caused by the abnormal buildup of fat and cholesterol plaques in the arteries. When the build-up increases the arteries become stiff and narrow. This may lead to blood clots and heart attacks.
  • Arrhythmias: A condition caused by less efficient pumping of the heart causing abnormal heart rhythm.
  • Eisenmenger Syndrome: It is a rare heart defect, where the blood does not flow properly from left to right halves of the heart. It causes pulmonary hypertension, Polycythaemia and Cyanosis.
  • Kawasaki Disease: Extremely rare heart condition which may cause inflammation of blood vessels in mouth, lips, hands, feet and throat. It can cause fever and swelling in the lymph nodes.
  • Pericarditis: This defect occurs when the membranes surrounding the heart are infected or get inflamed, they stop the heart from pumping normal quantities of blood.
  • Rheumatic Heart Disease: If a body infected by the streptococcus bacteria is left untreated in can cause this heart condition. The bacteria over time can permanently damage the heart muscles and valves.

Path to Cure

Apart from the congenital heart disease, all the rest of heart defects can be treated with medicines and therapies prescribed by the Paediatrician. Surgery can lead to overall cure of the congenital heart disease and will help the kid get back his/her normal life.  The timing for the surgery may vary from soon after baby’s birth to some year’s later, as deemed necessary by the Paediatrician. There are three types of surgery as mentioned below:

  • Open Heart Surgery: An incision is done through the breastbone, after the child is given general anaesthesia to make the surgery pain free. Heart-lung bypass machine is used to reroute the blood. This machine provides required oxygen to the blood keeping the blood warm and moving while the surgeon repairs the heart. The heart-lung bypass machine also allows the heart to be temporarily stopped, helping the surgeon repair the heart muscles, valves and blood vessels without any hindrance. Once the repair is complete, the machine is removed. The incision is closed and the surgery ends.
  • Thoracotomy: Also known as Closed Heart Surgery, in this process incision is made on the side of the chest. The surgery is done using certain special instruments with the aid of a camera.
  • Inserting of tubes: In the third process, small tubes are inserted into an artery of the leg and it is routed to the heart. The process is applicable for only certain types of heart conditions.

Post Surgery

After the surgery is complete the kid would be kept in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for 2-4 days. For the next 5-7 days the kid will be kept in the hospital under monitoring of healthcare professionals. Once released from the hospital, the child should be taken for follow-up visits to the cardiologist every 6-12 months.

Just like Rehan, many children all over the world have overcome their heart defects with timely medical treatments. So, waste no time in getting your child checked for any heart defects.


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