The Heart of the Matter

In the OR

Signs that a child may have a heart problem include:

  • sweating or tiring with feedings
  • consistently blue or purple lips and nail beds
  • poor growth
If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your pediatrician.

Most people think of heart disease as a problem of middle or old age. But heart abnormalities are the most common kind of birth defect, affecting eight of every 1,000 babies in the United States. And in most cases, there is no identifiable reason why a heart defect occurs.

“Congenital” is the medical term for any problem that is present at birth. Congenital heart problems can be simple or complex. Some can be managed with close medical supervision and medications. A child may even outgrow some of the simpler heart problems. Other problems require surgery, sometimes soon after birth.

Many congenital heart defects can be resolved using a less-invasive procedure called cardiac catheterization. While the child is under anesthesia, a long, flexible tube (catheter) is inserted into a vein and guided into the heart, allowing a close look at the structures inside. Cardiac catheterization can be used to close holes inside the heart, open blockages or place stents into arteries to keep them open.

Sound hearts can have murmurs

Baby being examined

When the two-beat rhythm normally heard through the stethoscope is replaced by a blowing, whooshing or rasping sound, a murmur has been detected. These murmurs may occur when blood flows through a narrowed opening or valves in the heart aren’t functioning properly.

Murmurs can occur in a perfectly normal heart. Called innocent or normal murmurs, they usually go away by adulthood and do not prevent a child from being as active as any other healthy child. Other murmurs are caused by heart problems, so your child’s physician may want to refer you to a pediatric cardiologist for testing or follow-up.