Heart diseases in children
More than 200,000 children per year in India are born with heart diseases. Nearly twenty percent of these children have life-threatening defects, requiring medical intervention in the first year of life.
There are different types of heart problems that can affect a child. These include congenital heart diseases, viral infections affecting the heart, and acquired heart diseases due to illnesses or genetic syndromes.
But thanks to the advances in medicine and technology, most of these diseases can not prevent a child from leading a happy and healthy life.
What are the different types of heart diseases in children?
- Congenital heart defects (CHDs)
These are defects that are present at birth. In India, 9 out of 10000 babies are born with congenital heart defects.
Congenital heart defects may include
- Disorders involving heart valves like narrowing of the aortic valve
- Underdevelopment of heart like hypoplastic left heart syndrome
- Conditions causing holes in the walls between different heart chambers and between major blood vessels leaving the heart like ventricular septal defects, patent ductus arteriosus, and atrial septal defects.
- Tetralogy of Fallot: A combination of four defects viz. hole in the ventricular septum, displaced aorta, narrowed passage between the right ventricle and pulmonary artery, and a thickened right side of the heart.
Congenital heart defects can be treated with medications, catheter procedures, heart surgery, and in severe cases, heart transplants. Some children with CHDs may need lifelong treatment and monitoring.
The abnormal rhythm of the heart can hamper the pumping efficiency of the heart. In a child with arrhythmia, the heart may beat too fast or too slowly.
A child may suffer from different types of arrhythmias
- Tachycardia or the condition when the heart rate becomes too fast. The most common type of tachycardia found in children is supraventricular tachycardia
- Bradycardia or the condition when the heart rate becomes too slow.
- LQTS or long Q-T Syndrome
- Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome
Some of the symptoms common in children suffering from arrhythmias are
- difficulty feeding
It is the build-up of fat inside arteries. As the size of this deposition increases, arteries narrow down. This compromises the blood flow to the heart muscles and may result in a heart attack. Though atherosclerosis is very uncommon in children or teenagers, lifestyle changes causing obesity, diabetes, and hypertension in children have made them more prone to it. A cardiologist usually recommends regular cholesterol and blood pressure monitoring in children with a family history of heart disease or diabetes or those who are overweight.
When blood circulates through heart chambers or valves or blood vessels, it makes a whooshing sound or murmur. Any deviation from a normal heart murmur may signal underlying heart disease. Abnormal heart murmurs can be seen in congenital heart diseases, fever, or anemia. If a cardiologist suspects abnormal heart murmurs, he/she may recommend additional tests to find out the root cause.
- Rheumatic heart disease
In rheumatic heart disease, rheumatic fever may cause damage to heart valves. Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease that can affect the connective tissues in the heart, brain, joints, and skin. When a streptococcal infection such as strep throat or scarlet fever is left untreated or undertreated, inflammation or scarring of valves may occur, resulting in leaking or narrowing of heart valves thus, making it difficult for the heart to function normally.
Rheumatic fever commonly occurs in children between 5 to 15 years of age. The symptoms of rheumatic heart disease appear 10 to 20 years after the original illness.
Rheumatic heart disease can be prevented by promptly treating streptococcal infection.
First, we try to understand what pericardium is. The pericardium is a thin sac or membrane surrounding the heart. Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium. Pericarditis causes an increase in the amount of fluid between two layers of pericardium thus, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood. Pericarditis may happen after surgery or during infections, chest trauma, or diseases like lupus. Treatment of pericarditis depends on the child’s age and the cause.
How do I know if my child has heart problems?
Signs and symptoms of heart diseases in children may vary based on the child’s age, nature of the disease, and severity of the disease.
Some common signs and symptoms of potential heart problems in children and infants may include but are not limited to
- Weight loss or trouble gaining weight
- Bluish colour on the nail beds, lips, or tongue
- Fast or rapid breathing
- Difficulty in breathing
- Lack of physical activity