It is a known statistic that heart disease is a leading cause of death for adults, but most do not realize there are several types of heart problems that affect children as well. Many of these problems are passed down from the previous generation. This type of condition is genetic.
A genetic medical condition is one that can be passed on from generation to generation. There are many types of heart disease that are considered to be genetic, including congenital heart disease, cardiomyopathy, high blood cholesterol and high blood pressure. It is important to look at your child’s immediate family: father, mother and siblings.
Although there is nothing that can be done about the family history of your child, that does not mean or she is destined to suffer from heart disease. First off, it’s essential that you share your child’s family history with his or her doctor. Your child’s doctor can work with you to help minimize risk factors. He or she will likely recommend a heart-healthy diet, a regular exercise program and possibly even medication if needed.
There are several different ways that heart disease can be diagnosed in children. If heart disease runs in your family, it’s important that a doctor test your child to see if he or she suffers from the disease too. Below are a few of the tests your child’s doctor may recommend (these are typically done at a cardiologist’s office):
- Electrocardiogram: This is a very noninvasive way to check your child’s heart, focusing on potential rhythm problems. During this test, electrodes, which are connected to a computer, are placed on your child’s chest so the doctor can see how your child’s heart is beating.
- Echocardiogram: This test is also very noninvasive and allows the doctor to see your child’s heart in motion. During an echocardiogram, an ultrasound produces images of your child’s heart so the doctor can check for any abnormalities in the heart muscles and valves.
- Chest X-ray: An x-ray of the chest can help determine if your child’s heart is enlarged. This test can also allow the doctor to see if there is extra blood or fluid in your child’s lungs.
- Cardiac Catheterization: During this test, a thin, flexible tube is inserted into a blood vessel in your child’s groin and moved into the heart. Typically this test is needed if the doctor notices a defect during the echocardiogram.
Prior to your child’s appointment, you should make a list of any signs and symptoms your child may be experiencing. Even if these symptoms are unrelated to heart disease, it’s important they are brought up. You should also make a list of any medication, vitamins or supplements that you (or the child’s mother) have been taking.
There are several types of heart defects and conditions that your child could be diagnosed with if cardiovascular disease runs in the family. Below are the types of genetic heart problems commonly affecting children and specifics on how they can be identified.
Congenital Heart Disease
Congenital heart disease ranks as the most common birth defect in the United States. With an estimated 40,000 cases each year, CHD affects nearly 1 in 100 babies. Usually, CHD involves an issue with the heart muscle or valves, including narrowing of the aortic valve or defects in the wall that separates the left and right sides of the heart. Symptoms of congenital heart disease in children include rapid breathing, swelling in legs, abdomen and area around the eyes, shortness of breath and flared nostrils.
An abnormal rhythm of the heart, known as an arrhythmia, may appear in children in the form of a fast heart rate, a slow heart rate, long Q-T syndrome or Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. Symptoms of a heart arrhythmia include weakness, fatigue, dizziness, fainting and difficulty feeding
Most often, heart murmurs are a result of defective heart valves. Innocent heart murmurs, sounds made by the blood circulating through the chambers and valves of the heart, are common in children and are harmless. When your child’s doctor first hears the murmur, he or she will likely recommend additional testing to ensure the murmur is innocent. Some murmurs are an indication of a bigger problem with the heart in which case your child will be sent to a pediatric cardiologist who can recommend a treatment based on the determined problem.
High Blood Pressure
While most people assume high blood pressure (HBP) is only associated with adults, it can actually be linked to children and even babies. Aside from diet and weight, factors such as heart and kidney disease, as well as certain medications, can lead to HBP. Most children can maintain a healthy life by focusing on a heart-healthy diet, healthy weight and regular physical activity; however, medication can be used when needed.
Some children may need additional support if they are diagnosed with a medical condition such as heart disease. This diagnosis may cause your child to feel insecure about his or her abilities. By the time your child reaches school age, you may notice emotional difficulties develop as well. It is important that you communicate with your child and listen to his or her concerns. Talk with your child’s doctor about these concerns as he or she can recommend resources, like support groups or therapists, that may be able to help.
Even if your child is diagnosed with a heart condition, he or she can still live a very full, healthy life. In fact, certain defects have no long-term effect on the health of your child. In some instances, defects can even correct themselves as your child ages. Depending on your child’s condition, a doctor may recommend monitored exercise; however, many children are still able to participate in normal or near-normal activity.
If your child has been diagnosed with a heart defect of any kind, it is important that he or she receives regular medical exams and blood tests. For a full medical evaluation, visit Medical City Children’s Hospital Urgent Care to speak with a trained health expert. Designed exclusively to meet the needs of children, Medical City Children’s Hospital Urgent Care provides quick, efficient service so you can avoid the typical hassle of a doctor’s visit.
Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.