Must-know facts about heart failure in kids: Can it be prevented?

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Let's take a closer look at the causes, kinds, and treatment of heart failure in children. Can parents do anything to prevent it?

As your child grows, so too does her heart’s need to maintain proper blood flow through pump function. Heart failure happens when the optimal pumping and blood flow is not achieved. It means the heart is not functioning as well as it should.

In adults, the causes of heart failure can be traced to a number of factors, like high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary heart disease, heart valve defects, and smoking. But when it happens to newborns, infants, and toddlers, it does so for different reasons. So it’s vital for parents to know what causes it and how it can be prevented.

Heart failure in kids have two primary causes, “overcirculation failure” and “pump failure.”

What happens in overcirculation failure?

In overcirculation failure, the blood inside the heart mixes because of a congenital heart defect. According to the American Heart Association, about 1 percent of newborns suffer some sort of structural heart defect. In such cases, one section of the heart gets overloaded with blood flow, interrupting proper function, rendering it an “inefficient pump.” Examples of this are congenital heart disease and atherosclerosis.

What happens in pump failure?

When it comes to “pump failure,” the heart muscle is damaged to a point where it can no longer contract properly. Pump failure can be caused by either a virus, infection, or congenital coronary artery defect. The intake of certain drugs, for conditions like leukemia, can also be damaging to the heart. It could also be due to heart valves not being able to open and close properly. Much like overcirculation failure, pump failure makes the heart inefficient in regulating blood flow. Examples of this are rheumatic heart disease and pericarditis.

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How can heart failure in kids be identified?

Parents have to look out for difficulty breathing, poor feeding or growth, excessive sweating, and low blood pressure. In infants, heart failure can mask itself by presenting with symptoms similar to colic or pneumonia. If your baby seems to lack interest in feeding or if her heart rate is rapid even when asleep, it’s best to consult a pediatrician as soon as possible to rule out a possible heart condition.

How is heart failure in kids treated?

In cases of overcirculation, surgery is usually recommended. However, prior to any procedure, your doctor will normally prescribe medications to help minimize the overloading on some parts of the heart, easing the pressure on the heart’s ability to pump.

Your child may also be put on a low salt or low fat diet. To address your child’s poor growth, your pediatrician could also advise you to give nutritional supplements to your child. Once your child’s condition improves, it’s now called compensated heart failure.

If your child suffers from pump failure where her heartbeat is too slow, your pediatrician may recommend a pacemaker to help maintain a normal heart rate. For rapid heart rate, medications are usually prescribed. Heart transplants are usually recommended if none of the non-surgical interventions are successful.

It’s important to know that although heart failure can’t be predicted and no child is immune to it, parents can rest assured that most cases can be treated and defects can be repaired, especially with today’s technological advancements, many of these kids go on to become active and healthy adults.

READ: 5 Heart attack symptoms that are often overlooked

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Written by

Bianchi Mendoza