No matter your parenting style, how many kiddos you have running around at home, or what phase of life your child is in, I think that we can all agree on one thing: We’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that our children are happy and healthy. A lot of us have experience with run-of-the-mill fevers, sniffles, or seasonal allergies and we’ll go as far as to say that we’ve got the more common pediatric ailments on lock. But when it comes to less prevalent conditions, such as pediatric heart conditions, for instance, our knowledge might be more limited.
To answer our questions for all-things pediatric cardiology, we’re turning to the experts in the field: Division heads of cardiology and cardiovascular-thoracic surgery from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. We’ve partnered with the innovative and compassionate professionals at Lurie Children’s to help bring you the tools and information you need to look out for your little ones. If you’re looking for answers surrounding pediatric heart health, look no further: We’ve rounded up your frequently asked questions with answers from the experts at Lurie Children’s.
What does it mean if my child has a heart murmur?
When it comes to pediatric heart conditions, the experts at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago have seen and treated them all. From congenital heart defects (present at birth), to ventricular septal defects, to innocent heart murmurs. While most serious heart defects are diagnosed in-utero or when children are very young, heart murmurs are the most common symptom seen in clinic.
Murmurs are an extra heart sound that can be heard by a stethoscope on a physical exam. The majority of murmurs are innocent murmurs and do not represent anything structurally wrong with the heart. They may increase in intensity when the child has a fever, is dehydrated, or has a faster heart rate. They may even go away over time.
Occasionally, a murmur can indicate that a child has a congenital heart defect or
something structurally wrong with their heart. The most common heart defects are:
- Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD): A birth defect in which there is a
hole in the wall that separates the two lower chambers of the heart.
- Atrial Septal Defect (ASD): A birth defect in which there is a hole in
the wall that separates the two upper chambers of the heart.
- Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA): This extra blood vessel that connects the aorta and the pulmonary artery is found in babies before birth that should close within the first few days of life. If it remains open, this will increase blood flow to the lungs and cause strain on the heart.
- Bicuspid Aortic Valve: An aortic valve that has two flaps instead of three, which may cause the value to eventually leak or narrow.
What should I do if my child has chest pain?
While chest pain can be a common symptom of heart problems in adults, that isn’t always the case for children. According to the experts at Lurie Children’s, it is more common for other body system dysfunction to be responsible for chest pain than it is for chest pain to be considered a cardiac issue.
More likely, pediatric chest pain is rooted in issues with other systems such as:
- Gastrointestinal (Reflux)
- Musculoskeletal (Muscular or skeletal injury)
- Psychosomatic (Stress and anxiety)
What are some signs that might indicate an undiagnosed heart condition?
Per the experts at Lurie Children’s, some signs that might indicate that a child needs a cardiac evaluation include:
- Heart murmur heard in medical exam
- Poor growth
- Poor feeding
- Cyanosis (a bluish discoloration of the skin, nails, lips, or eyes due to lack of oxygen to the tissues)
- Exercise intolerance (abnormally increased fatigue or work of breathing during activity)
- Palpitations (a sensation that the heart is racing, fluttering, or skipping a beat)
Outside of congenital heart defects, are there heart conditions that can develop as my child grows?
As a child grows, Lurie Children’s experts noted that a couple of pediatric heart conditions can develop throughout childhood including but not limited to myocarditis, pericarditis, and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children related to COVID and Kawasaki Disease.
Myocarditis and pericarditis both involve inflammation of the heart and can be caused by viral illnesses that cause the common cold, including COVID-19, infection, or autoimmune disorders. Specifically, myocarditis involves the inflammation of the myocardium (the muscular layer of the heart) and pericarditis involves the inflammation of the pericardium (the membrane that surrounds the heart). In addition to chest pain, children may experience fever. Treatment of myocarditis and pericarditis vary depending on severity and cause, but if either condition is caused by bacterial infection, antibiotic treatment may be necessary.
Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) is a condition in which different organs of a child’s body can become inflamed. MIS-C has recently been linked to COVID diagnosis or exposure, but experts at the CDC don’t yet know why some children are affected after COVID diagnosis or exposure and some do not. Treatment for MIS-C includes supportive care, which may require a visit in the ICU.
Kawasaki Disease may also develop later in childhood and causes inflammation of blood vessels through the arteries. It often leads to inflammation of the coronary arteries, which are responsible for supplying the heart tissue with oxygen-rich blood. Children with this syndrome might have a fever, swollen hands and feet, red eyes or tongue, peeling skin, and a rash. The goals of initial treatment are to lower fever and inflammation and to prevent heart damage.
Contact your child’s doctor if your child has an ongoing fever plus more than one of the following:
- Stomach pain
- Bloodshot eyes
- Skin rash
When and how are pediatric heart conditions diagnosed?
If your child is experiencing any of the above-listed symptoms (poor growth/feeding, a bluish discoloration to skin while at rest or during/after activity, exercise intolerance, or palpitations), you should report these issues to your child’s doctor as soon as possible. If there is a concern for a pediatric heart condition, your child’s doctor may refer them to a specialist such as a pediatric cardiologist or an advanced practice provider.
The experts at Lurie Children’s stated that the diagnosis will likely include “an Electrocardiogram (ECG) and in some cases an Echocardiogram.” An ECG uses electrodes and leads to measure electrical impulses, rate, and rhythm, while an Echo uses ultrasound technology to help your doctor visualize the heart structure and how blood is pumped through the heart. Both diagnostic tests are noninvasive and can give your child’s medical team a lot of information about a child’s heart condition.
If my child is diagnosed with a pediatric heart condition, how might it be treated?
The experts at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago stated that treatment really depends on the type of heart disease and its severity. In some instances, a child’s heart condition may require little to no therapy at all. In other cases, it could require a medical, catheter, or surgical therapy. If you are concerned that your child may be experiencing symptoms of a pediatric heart condition, contact your doctor for an evaluation.
This post was in partnership with Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everymom editorial board. We only recommend products we genuinely love.