A newborn and mother

Different heart diseases and conditions can affect babies and children. Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are the most common form of birth defect. These can include a hole in the heart between chambers, a valve that doesn’t open and close properly, narrowing of a blood vessel, abnormal blood vessel positions, and others.

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Congenital Heart Conditions

Some common congenital heart conditions include:

  • Aortic valve stenosis
  • Atrial or ventricular septal defect
  • Coarctation of the aorta
  • Complete or partial atrioventricular canal defect
  • Ebstein’s anomaly
  • Partial or complete atrioventricular canal defect
  • Patent ductus arteriosus
  • Pulmonary valve stenosis
  • Single ventricle defects
  • Tetralogy of Fallot
  • Transposition of the great arteries

Pediatric cardiac conditions can include heart muscle issues such as congestive heart failure and cardiomyopathy, and heart rhythm issues including supraventricular tachycardia, ventricular tachycardia, and atrioventricular block.

Other pediatric heart conditions include:

  • Chest pain (rarely heart-related in children)
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Fainting or passing out

Diagnosing and Treating a Pediatric Heart Condition

Many CHDs can be diagnosed in utero using a fetal echocardiogram. This ultrasound test uses sound waves to create a picture of the fetus’ heart.

After the baby’s birth and throughout its lifetime, cardiologists may use different diagnostic tests to reveal heart anatomy problems. These tests can include echocardiograms to evaluate the heart’s pumping action and electrocardiograms to check the heart’s electrical activity.

In addition, chest x-rays can show if the heart is enlarged and a pulse oximeter checks blood oxygen levels. A baby or child also may undergo a cardiac catheterization or cardiovascular MRI for a more detailed view of the heart.

Fortunately, much more is now known about diagnosing and treating pediatric heart conditions than in the past. Today, surgery is standard treatment for a rare heart defect called tetralogy of Fallot. That was not the case before the 1960s.

Some CHDs require surgery. Doctors may recommend artificial valves for babies and kids with valve problems. Surgery can also repair holes in the heart and vessels can be rerouted if needed. A child with an arrhythmia may need a pacemaker. In other conditions, the doctor may recommend a watch-and-wait approach or prescribe medicines.

Ultimately, each condition requires a different solution. Your child’s doctor will evaluate the situation and recommend the best way forward.

Risk Factors for Pediatric Heart Conditions

Many pediatric heart conditions occur for no known reason. However, some have genetic links. According to the American Heart Association, there’s a 2% to 25% chance a heart defect will reoccur in another family member — although the percentage depends on the type of defect. If the defect is caused by a single gene, those chances jump to 50%. Pregnant women with a family history of structural heart defects should share this information with their obstetrician, who may recommend additional testing and monitoring.

Heart defects can also be environmental — caused by something the mother was exposed to during pregnancy. This includes smoking, drugs, or infections. These risks do not pose a risk to other children born into the same family .

To learn more about pediatric heart conditions, contact the experts at the Heart Institute at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh by calling 412-692-5540.

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh ranks consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital is a longtime national leader for women and their newborns. We aim to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond.