Contrary to the belief, cardiac diseases are common cause of illness in babies and children. They can be present since birth (congenital) wherein parts of the heart have not formed properly or can be acquired later in childhood due to infections. Babies with defects in the heart have difficulty in breathing, feeding, problems with gaining weight or some may go unnoticed due to lack of symptoms. Some heart defects can also present with repeated pneumonias, bluishness, due to lack of oxygen while others present later in childhood with problems in the heart pumping due to viral infections. A heart murmur is an abnormal sound made by blood circulating through the heart’s chambers or valves, or through blood vessels near the heart. Often it’s harmless. Other times it may signal an underlying cardiovascular problem.If a doctor hears an abnormal heart murmur in a child, they’ll perform additional tests to be sure the heart is healthy.
It is important to know that majority of the heart problems are easily diagnosed by performing a 2D echocardiography which is an ultrasound for the heart. Congenital heart defects can even be diagnosed before the birth of the baby by fetal echocardiography which is best done in the 4th month of pregnancy. This can help the parents and the medical team prepare prior to the delivery of the child in optimising the care.
Doctors who specialise in treating children with heart diseases are known as paediatric cardiologists. They not only help in diagnosing the cardiac problem but are also trained in performing angiographies, closing suitable holes without surgery and opening narrowed valves or arteries with balloon angioplasties. Majority of the defects require open heart surgery which necessitates a team of cardiac surgeons, cardiologists and cardiac anaesthetists. A newborn with low birth weight can also undergo an open heart surgery with good results. Children who have been operated at young age, need periodic check ups even during adult life whereas adults who were born with cardiac defects also need expert care from a paediatric cardiologist. Those with serious life threatening heart problems like heart failure, elevated lung pressures and abnormal rhythm beats require cardiologists who specialise in these fields as these diseases require intricate care.