Signs Of Heart Problems In Children

November 01, 2023

Acquired Heart Disease

Acquired heart disease is the kind we most often associate with adults, but children and teens can also be affected. The most common acquired heart diseases in children are rheumatic heart disease and Kawasaki disease.

What Is Rheumatic Heart Disease?

Rheumatic heart disease is the most serious complication of rheumatic fever, an illness caused by the bacteria responsible for strep throat. Your child's immune system can produce antibodies to fight the strep infection, but in some cases, these antibodies can damage heart valves, leading to rheumatic heart disease. Noncardiac symptoms include joint pain and swelling; rash on the trunk or arms; skin bumps on the wrist, elbows or knees; and rapid limb movements.

What Is Kawasaki Disease?

Kawasaki disease causes the body's own immune system to attack healthy tissues, leading to inflammation in the coronary arteries and heart muscles. It's the leading cause of acquired heart disease in children in the U.S. Kawasaki disease is most commonly seen in Asian children or children of Pacific Island descent, and it tends to affect more boys than girls. About 80 percent of children diagnosed are under 5 years old. Noncardiac symptoms of Kawasaki disease include a fever lasting five or more days, a rash, red or bloodshot eyes, swollen or cracked lips, a red “strawberry” tongue, swollen hands and feet, and swollen lymph nodes. Additionally, many parents are surprised to learn that children can develop high blood pressure and high cholesterol, potential precursors to serious problems like a heart attack or stroke.

Other Signs Of Heart Problems In Children

Signs of heart problems in children vary based on the condition, a child's age and whether the heart condition or disease was acquired before a child was born or during childhood.

Heart Problems In Babies

Signs of potential heart problems in infants may include:
  • Trouble gaining weight
  • Bluish color to the lips, tongue or nail beds
  • Difficulty with feeding
  • Fast or rapid breathing, or difficulty breathing, even while resting
  • Tiring easily while eating
  • Sweating while feeding

Heart Problems In Young Children

In young children, look for:
  • Passing out during physical exercise or activity
  • Heart palpitations—a heartbeat that feels funny or fluttery to a child
  • Shortness of breath while playing or being active
  • Chest pain

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