Oct 26, 2023 Pediatric Heart Conditions: More Common Than Parents Would Think

Three children sitting with pumpkins

In the United States, it’s estimated that about 40,000 babies are born with a congenital heart disease or defect each year — that’s 1 out of 100.

Each year, more than 4,000 children in the United States are diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, a major cause of acquired heart disease in children under 5.

While some heart conditions can't be prevented, there are signs that parents can look for and things parents can do that can lead to earlier intervention and better outcomes for their children.

Childhood heart conditions generally fall into two categories:

  • Congenital heart disease, which are defects that are present at birth
  • Acquired heart disease, which develops as the child grows and gets older

Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital heart defects (CHD) occur in about 1 out of every 100 newborns as a result of the heart or blood vessels around the heart not developing properly. These defects, which can be mild or severe, interfere with the heart's ability to pump like it should.

While babies throughout the United States are screened for serious congenital heart defects within 24 hours of being born, some congenital heart defects, such as atrial septal defects (holes in the walls of the heart), can remain undiagnosed until a child's teenage years (or even later).

Identifying Signs of Heart Conditions

Signs of heart problems in children vary based on the condition, a child's age and when the heart condition or disease was acquired — before the child's birth or during childhood.

Heart Problems in Babies

Signs of potential heart problems in infants may include:

  • Trouble gaining weight
  • Bluish color to the lips, tongue or nail beds
  • Difficulty with feeding
  • Fast or rapid breathing/difficulty breathing, even while resting
  • Tiring easily while eating
  • Sweating while feeding

Call your doctor right away if you notice your baby displaying any of these signs or symptoms.

Heart Problems in Young Children

In young children, look for:

  • Passing out during physical exercise or activity
  • Heart palpitations — a heartbeat that feels funny or fluttery to a child
  • Shortness of breath while playing or being active
  • Chest pain, recurrent during sports

Heart Problems in Teens

Signs of heart disease in teens are similar to those in younger kids. Usually, teens who are active in sports will have already undergone a physical exam with their pediatrician that included questions to try and help catch potential heart problems early. However, if your teen athlete complains of chest pain or other heart symptoms during activity, consider scheduling a screening and evaluation by a pediatric cardiologist.

If you are concerned that your child may have an underlying heart condition, speak with your child's pediatrician. Have the pediatrician assess your child to help determine if a referral to a pediatric cardiologist is warranted.

Stay on top of your child's heart health. To connect with one of New Jersey’s top cardiac specialists, call 888-724-7123 or request an appointment.