Recognizing Heart Defects in Children
by Brooke Keith
According to the American Heart Association, for every one thousand babies born, eight will have some form of congenital heart defect. That’s approximately thirty-five thousand babies each year.
Sometimes detecting the signs of heart defects in a child can be difficult. Even a doctor may not be able to identify certain defects during a physical exam, as some produce little or no signs.
Heart defects do not cause chest pain or any other types of painful symptoms. Abnormal blood flow to the heart makes a specific sound that a doctor can hear through a stethoscope. Not every murmur stems from a heart defect; healthy children can have heart murmurs, too. These are sometimes referred to as innocent murmurs that require no treatment and have no adverse side effects.
While some defects are hard to recognize, severe defects do have signs and symptoms that can help your doctor reach a diagnosis and start seeking help for your child.
So how can you recognize the symptoms of heart defects in your own child? The Congenital Heart Information Network and the American Heart Association say you can look for
- rapid breathing
- a bluish tint to the lips, skin, and fingernails
- poor blood circulation
Symptoms in newborns may differ from those in older children. These may include
- falling asleep before finishing the feeding
- sweating around the head, especially during feeding
- fast breathing when at rest or sleeping
- pale or bluish skin color
- poor weight gain
- sleeping a lot instead of being playful or curious for any length of time
- puffy face, hands, and/or feet
- often irritable, difficult to console
Some children may not present symptoms until they reach older childhood. These may include
- difficulty keeping up with other children
- becoming out of breath during play
- tiring easily and/or sleeping a lot
- change in color during active play or sports (looks pale or has a bluish tint around their mouth or nose)
- frequent colds and respiratory illnesses
- slow growth/weight gain
- poor appetite
- complaints of heart pounding and/or chest pain
If you suspect your child has a congenital heart defect, speak with the pediatrician. If your doctor discovers a heart defect, don’t panic. With your support, healthy choices, and physicians’ care, you can help your child live a normal, healthy, and productive life. For more information on congenital heart defects in children, visit the American Heart Association at www.americanheart.org.