If you are like most moms, the potential for congenital heart problems isn’t even on your radar during pregnancy. So hearing that diagnosis, whenever it comes, can be overwhelming. Decisions need to be made quickly and, for some children, managing their heart disease will be a lifetime journey. But it can still be a happy and healthy one with the right medical team.
Congenital Heart Defects
Congenital simply means “present from birth.” Congenital heart problems are defects in the structure of the heart that cause problems with its function—to pump blood into the lungs to get oxygen and then pump the oxygen-rich blood out to the body.
Heart defects are complex. There are at least 18 different recognized types and children can have multiple heart defects or variations. They are named for the parts of the heart they impact, including the two upper chambers (atria), two lower chambers (ventricles) and walls (septum) and the valves that separate them.
A ventricular septal defect (VSD) is a hole in the wall between ventricles that fails to close before birth. An atrial septal defect (ASD) is a defect in the wall between the atria. Heart valves can also be stiff (e.g., aortic valve stenosis) or missing (e.g., tricuspid valve atresia). And there are combinations of defects often seen together, like the Tetralogy of Fallot—which includes VSD narrowing of the large artery supplying blood to the lungs (pulmonary stenosis), a thickened heart muscle and a misplaced aorta.
Sometimes congenital heart defects don’t require any treatment—a VSD may close on its own, or not cause enough symptoms to require treatment until adulthood. But many others require one or multiple open-heart surgeries to correct.
The good news is that treatment is more successful than ever and available for many more conditions than were possible in the past.
Local Pediatric Cardiology Experts
Pediatric cardiologists are specialists in the diagnosis and management of infants, children and adolescents with congenital heart defects, heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias) and other heart-involved conditions. At Overland Park Medical Center, our pediatric cardiologists partner with perinatologists (who treat babies in the womb) to detect congenital problems as early as possible—giving parents more time to make critical decisions.
Neonatologists, specialists in newborn care, may join the care team as well. And the center’s Level III NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) and 24-hour Pediatric Inpatient and Intensive Care Unit support infants and children throughout their journey.
Other Pediatric Heart Conditions & Symptoms
Children can develop heart problems at any time, sometimes related to infections (e.g., Kawasaki disease) or injuries. These are called acquired heart disease.
Arrhythmias are problems with the electrical impulses that tell the heart when to beat, leading to heart rhythms that are too fast, too slow and/or irregular. Arrhythmias can be acquired or they can run in families. Pediatric cardiologists provide most of the care for these patients.
Signs of a Heart Problem
Every type of heart problem will cause a specific set of symptoms. But, in general, children with one or more of the following symptoms may be referred to a pediatric cardiologist for evaluation and treatment:
- Murmurs—heart sounds that can be heard when listening with a stethoscope, which may be innocent or signs of congenital heart defects.
- Cyanosis—a bluish tinge to the skin caused by lack of oxygen in circulating blood.
- Chest pain—mainly in older children, because babies can’t tell you what they’re feeling.
- Syncope—fainting or loss of consciousness.
- Dizziness or light-headedness—sometimes called pre-syncope.
- Palpitations—pounding heartbeat.
- Arrhythmias—abnormally fast or slow heart rates or an irregular heart rhythm shown on an EKG (electrocardiogram).
- Hypertension—high blood pressure.
- Failure to thrive—a term used to describe children who are not growing (weight or height) as expected.
- Shortness of breath—difficulty breathing or unable to take deep breaths.
- Family history—of heart defects, arrhythmia or any genetic disease that may have heart involvement.
Pediatric Heart Care in Kansas City
The pediatric cardiologists at Overland Park Regional Medical Center specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and management of both congenital and acquired heart condition – from in-utro through adolescents. They also complete Cardiac Sports Evaluations prior to children taking part in physical activity and Pre-Surgery Cardiac Evaluations for kids needing surgery for any reason.
For more information on the Overland Park Regional Medical Center’s Pediatric Cardiology programs, call (913) 541-KIDS (5437) or take a tour.