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What every parent should know about congenital heart disease in children

This February, take a moment to think about the heart – not the one associated with Valentine’s Day, but the precious organ that gives each of us the gift of life. February is American Heart Month, designed to raise awareness about heart disease and promote heart-healthy lifestyles. Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week takes place February 7-14.

Congenital heart disease (CHD), often known as a congenital heart defect, is an abnormality in the heart that develops prior to birth. CHD is the most common birth defect in the United States and the leading cause of birth defect-related deaths.

About one out of every 100 babies is born with CHD. There are many types of CHDs, ranging from simple to complex. Some CHDs can be detected in the womb by an ultrasound or a fetal echocardiogram. After birth, CHD is often first detected when the pediatrician hears an abnormal heart sound or heart murmur when listening to the heart. If your child’s primary care physician suspects your child might have a heart defect, your child will likely be referred to a pediatric cardiologist. Most heart conditions are treatable. Surgery is often necessary to repair congenital heart defects.

Heart murmurs or atypical heart sounds are common, affecting up to 50% of children. Not all children with heart murmurs have heart disease. There are many instances where a murmur may be heard in a child with a strong, healthy heart. For others, heart murmurs can indicate structural heart problems. In either case, a pediatric cardiologist will follow up on a child’s specific heart findings and, when necessary, provide management and treatment strategies.

Chest pain is also common in children and often unrelated to heart disease. While many of the causes of chest pain aren’t long-lasting or life-threatening, they should be diagnosed by a doctor.

Most children can safely participate in sports, even children born with CHD. If your child participates in sports, you should ask your doctor for a heart screening electrocardiogram (EKG), a simple, fast test that measures the heart’s electrical activity. Safe sports screenings can help identify at-risk children and reveal conditions that are often not detected by routine checkups. Pediatric heart screenings can expose potentially life-threatening conditions and save lives.

It can be scary to find out your child has CHD. Parents can find relief knowing that thanks to significant advances in cardiac surgical techniques, there are now more adults living with CHD than children living with the disease. There is a substantial and growing population of adults living with CHD in the U.S. who are leading full and productive lives.

Good overall health goes beyond the heart, so every parent should schedule regular wellness checkups with their child’s pediatrician. If your child needs expert heart care, Wolfson Children’s Hospital offers cardiology checkups, comprehensive testing and pediatric cardiology specialists at each of its outpatient specialty care locations. For those children who require heart surgery, Wolfson Children’s Hospital’s partnership with UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh brings together top minds in the field to develop and execute the best course of action for each heart surgery patient. For more information, visit wolfsonchildrens.com/heart.


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