What is Pediatric Congestive Heart Failure?

Within the United States, congenital heart defects are the main cause of pediatric congestive heart failure. Other causes include; infections, exposure to toxins and damage caused by drugs. The American Heart Association (2008) defines congestive heart failure (CHF) as a medical condition in which the heart can not pump enough blood to the rest of the body. Blood flowing out of the heart slows; causing the blood returning to the heart to back up into other tissues of the body. The severity of symptoms can vary, depending on the degree of the heart defect.

This condition results in fluid build up in the child’s tissues, including the lungs. Breathing becomes more difficult and the child experiences shortness of breath and may start using more of their chest muscles to breathe. This added exertion uses up vital energy that should otherwise go toward helping the child grow and develop; the very act of breathing and crying can leave them feeling exhausted. As a result, these children can fail to grow and thrive; compared to children their age, they may be slower in meeting their developmental milestones.

Symptoms of pediatric congestive heart failure may not be evident until a few weeks after birth. The child may have a pale or gray complexion. Due to their breathing difficulties, they can take almost an hour to finish a feed that should ordinarily take only about 15 minutes. The added exertion associated with each activity can cause them to perspire excessively, even at normal temperatures. A lack of energy, a fast heart rate and fast breathing are common signs of pediatric congestive heart failure.

Older children and adolescents may have more specific symptoms, such as feeling shortness of breath whenever they are active or exercising. Depending on the severity of their heart condition, they can experience difficulty breathing even at minimal exertion, such as climbing stairs or taking a walk. Some children develop abdominal pain; clinicians may find an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the child’s abdomen and swelling in their extremities.

Their appetites may be diminished, which can lead to weight loss. On the other hand, they can also gain weight, due to the amount of fluid that is being retained. It is important to note that older children can be at risk of fainting during strenuous activities; this can subsequently lead to a serious injury.

Treating children with pediatric congestive heart failure has become safer in recent years, due to high-definition imaging technology, advanced patient monitoring systems and high tech robotic operating tools. Operative procedures have also become safer and less invasive.

In some cases both the heart surgeon and the heart catheterization specialist will treat the child, at the same time. These combined elements have contributed to improved survival rates and improved health outcomes for children. Early and focused surgical treatments have saved many children from an otherwise debilitating or fatal defect. Referral to a pediatric cardiologist is appropriate whenever a diagnosis of pediatric congestive heart failure is suspected.