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Learning About Pediatric Cardiology

Understanding your child’s heart disease can be an important step in the lifelong management of his or her condition. Some of the more common pediatric heart diseases treated at the Children’s Heart Center include:

  • Congenital heart defects - A congenital heart defect is a malformation that occurs during the development of the heart and exists at birth. They are present in eight out of 1,000 births, affecting 30,000 children per year. Some of these abnormalities are mild and only need to be observed. Others are more severe and require surgery soon after birth. Those defects requiring open-heart surgery will require the use of a heart lung machine, or bypass machine, to circulate and oxygenate the blood while the heart is stopped during repair. Closed heart surgery is done while the heart is beating and does not require the use of a heart lung machine
  • Septal defects - Atrial septal defects are holes in the walls that separate the right and left atria. Ventricular septal defects are holes in the walls that separate the right and left ventricles. Large defects allow enough blood to cross through the opening that the heart grows larger and the child develops symptoms of congestive heart failure, such as rapid breathing, difficulty feeding and slow weight gain. Surgery is often required to close these defects.
  • Obstructive lesions - Narrowing of a blood vessel or valve causes a blockage of blood flow called stenosis. Severe blockage of the pulmonary valve, or pulmonary stenosis, can elevate blood pressure and cause thickening of the right ventricle. Similarly, aortic valve stenosis increases the workload on the left ventricle and can also cause thickening. Frequently, this can be treated during cardiac catheterization with a balloon-tipped catheter, or tube, which stretches open the narrowed valve. If this is not successful, surgery is then required.
  • Abnormal blood vessels - A patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) is a normal connection between the aorta and pulmonary artery that is required during fetal life and normally closes in the first day after birth. If it remains open, it may cause symptoms of congestive heart failure or infection. It may be closed surgically during a closed heart procedure or with coil embolization during cardiac catheterization. Coarctation of the aorta is an abnormal narrowing of the main blood vessel of the body. Obstruction of flow can cause high blood pressure in the upper half of the body and leg cramps. During surgery, the narrowed area is removed.
  • Complex defects - Often requiring early surgical intervention, these conditions may include the underdevelopment or absence of cardiac chambers and vessels, tetralogy of Fallot or “blue baby syndrome,” and abnormal connections between vessels and heart chambers.
  • Acquired heart disease - In contrast to congenital heart disease, acquired heart disease occurs after birth. Some of these conditions are brought about by infection, such as rheumatic fever or endocarditis, while others are inflammatory diseases, such as Kawasaki’s disease, which has no known cause. Cardiomyopathy may also occur after certain viral infections.  
  • Lipids abnormalities - Abnormal cholesterol levels can clog arteries and may lead to heart attack or stroke.
  • Rhythm abnormalities - Rhythm abnormalities or arrhythmias are changes in the heart’s normal electrical impulses, which may cause the heart to beat too fast, too slow or erratically.
  • Somatic or physical complaints - Symptoms of these conditions may include chest pain and syncope or fainting and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome

As part of Atlantic Health System Children's Health, physician services are provided through Atlantic Medical Group and are on staff at Goryeb Children’s Hospital.

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