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Congenital Heart Disease In Children


Congenital heart disease (CHD)

is a term used to describe defects in the structure of the heart. It may also be called congenital heart defect. Congenital means your child was born with the heart defect. Your child's heart defect may affect his heart valves, the walls of his heart, or the blood vessels. He may have a hole in part of the heart or narrowing of arteries connected to the heart. Blood may not be able to flow to your child's heart correctly, or it may not flow through his heart correctly. The defect may be mild or severe.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your child has any of the following signs of a stroke:
    • Numbness or drooping on one side of his face
    • Weakness in an arm or leg
    • Confusion or difficulty speaking
    • Dizziness, a severe headache, or vision loss
  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child faints or loses consciousness.

Seek care immediately if:

  • Your child has sudden shortness of breath.
  • Your child's lips or nails turn blue.

Contact your child's healthcare provider if:

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child has chills, a cough, or feels weak and achy.
  • Your child is not gaining weight as he should, or he has a sudden weight gain.
  • Your child has new swelling in his ankles or legs.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Signs and symptoms of CHD:

Your child may have any of the following, depending on the type of heart defect. He may not have signs or symptoms for a few years. He may never have signs or symptoms. Your child may have blue skin or nails when he is born. This is called cyanosis. If he does not have cyanosis, he may have high blood pressure or other problems caused by the defect.

  • Trouble breathing, hyperventilation (breathing too quickly)
  • Chest pain or sweating
  • Blue skin or nails that becomes worse when your child cries
  • Fussiness, trouble feeding, or a lack of appetite
  • Slower growth, or being small and underweight
  • Being out of breath, especially after he moves quickly
  • Fatigue or fainting

Treatment for CHD:

Your child's heart defect may not need to be treated. The defect may need to be treated if it is severe or is a type that will not go away without treatment. Your child's age and overall health will also help healthcare providers decide if the defect should be treated. It may go away without treatment, or not cause health problems as your child gets older.

  • Medicines may be used to help your child's heart beat more regularly. Your child may need to take heart medicines for several years. He may also need medicine to help flush extra fluid from his body. He may urinate more while he is taking this medicine.
  • Give your child's medicine as directed. Call your child's healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him if your child is allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs your child takes. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why they are taken. Bring the list or the medicines in their containers to follow-up visits. Carry your child's medicine list with you in case of an emergency.
  • A catheter procedure may be used to repair a defect. A catheter is a long, thin tube. Your child's healthcare provider will move the catheter through a vein or artery until it is near the defect. He may place a patch or plug on a hole in your child's heart. To widen a narrowed area, he may inflate a small balloon device attached to the catheter. This will widen a narrowed valve in the heart.
  • Surgery may be needed to repair the defect. Your child may need surgery to have a heart valve repaired or replaced. Surgery can also help repair problems from blood vessels that did not form correctly. A heart transplant may be used if the defect is severe and other treatments do not work. Your child may need more surgery over time.

Manage your child's CHD:

  • Do not smoke around your child. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause heart and lung damage. Your child's risk for health problems is increased if he breathes in secondhand smoke. Talk to your older child about not smoking. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you or your older child currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Ask about physical activity. Exercise is important for heart health. Your child's healthcare provider can tell you how much exercise your child needs each day and which exercises are best for him. Your child may not be able to do some physical activities or sports. The decision may depend on the type of defect your child has and if it was repaired. Your child's healthcare provider can give you written instructions for activities your child can do. You can give the instructions to your child's school officials.
  • Give your child a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, lean meats and fish, and beans. Your child's healthcare provider or a dietitian can help you plan healthy meals and snacks for your child.
  • Keep your child's teeth clean and healthy. Have your child get regular checkups at the dentist and brushes his teeth as directed. Cavities increase your child's risk for endocarditis (infection in the lining around his heart). He may need an antibiotic before he has dental procedures. The antibiotic can help prevent an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Ask about vaccines your child needs. Vaccines can help protect your child from infections that can be dangerous for a child with a heart defect. Ask which vaccines your child needs and when to get them.

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider as directed:

Your child will need ongoing tests to monitor his heart function. He may also need treatment as he gets older. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.