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Of Hearts, Hope & Healing: Diagnosis & Treatment of Congenital Heart Defects In Kids

December 3, 2020

A heart diagnosis for your child can be hard to stomach. If you’re struggling with taking it all in, take heart from this guide.

You whizz in for a routine paediatrician’s appointment, expecting to wrap up in a flash and whisk your child away for a well-deserved post-doc ice cream treat. Only, as you settle in and seat your little munchkin in her chair, you realise there’s something more to this visit. As your paediatrician holds the stethoscope to your child’s heart, you see her eyebrows furrow. And you know that something’s not quite right.

Wait, So My Child Has a Heart Condition?

Your paediatrician may suspect a problem with hearing a heart murmur during a routine appointment. While most heart murmurs are harmless and do not represent a heart defect, some may point to an underlying heart problem. If your doctor does hear a murmur, your child may be recommended some tests to gauge whether there is a paediatric heart condition that warrants treatment.

What Are the Possible Diagnostic Tests?

Your doctor may deem it appropriate for your child to undergo detailed heart tests to check for a problem. A list of possible tests is included below.

Fetal Echocardiogram

This is an ultrasound test done prenatally, i.e. before your baby is born. It allows your doctor to check whether your child is at risk of a heart defect, and design a treatment plan for after birth.

Echocardiogram

Unlike a fetal echocardiogram, a regular echocardiogram may be performed after your child is born. As an ultrasound tool, it is used to generate images of the heart and identify possible cardiac abnormalities.

Electrocardiogram

An electrocardiogram may be used to check for rhythmic inconsistencies by gauging the electrical activity of your child’s heart. In this procedure, electrodes are placed on your baby’s chest and the results are picked up and processed by a computer.

Chest X-Ray

A chest x-ray can highlight structural abnormalities, like an enlarged heart or swollen lungs. Both of these, although rare, could be indications of heart failure.

Pulse Oximetry

This test is used to measure the amount of oxygen in your child’s blood and is performed by placing a sensor over the tip of your child’s finger. Inadequate oxygen in the blood could point to a heart problem.

Cardiac Catheterisation

This procedure refers to the insertion of a fine, lightweight tube, called a catheter, into a blood vessel at your child’s groin. This tube is then guided through the blood vessel, into the heart. Catheterisation may be preferred as a means of gaining a detailed view of your child’s heart because it provides superior clarity than an echocardiogram.

Cardiovascular Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

A cardiovascular MRI is a non-invasive medical imaging technology that provides a snapshot of the structure of your child’s cardiovascular system.

What Are the Treatments For Paediatric Cardiac Conditions?

A congenital heart defect may not have a long-term impact on your child. Some defects like small holes may not pose any risks and can remain untreated, sometimes even correcting themselves over time. However, some heart defects may be risky for your child and warrant early treatment. The type of treatment you’re recommended will pivot on the exact problem at hand. Some broad treatment plans are outlined below.

Catheterisation Procedures

Catheterisation (explained earlier) offers a valuable gateway to your child’s heart, providing an opportunity for your doctor to repair a congenital heart defect without using any surgical methods on the heart or chest. Catheterisation procedures are often used to fix holes or narrowed areas.

 

Open-Heart Surgery

Open-heart surgery allows your doctor to use surgical techniques to repair a congenital heart defect. The procedure involves opening the chest and accessing underlying organs.

Minimally Invasive Heart Surgery

Unlike open-heart surgery, minimally invasive heart surgery involves the insertion of instruments into small incisions between the ribs to repair a heart defect. It may not be an effective option for all types of paediatric cardiac conditions.

Medications

If your child is diagnosed with a mild congenital heart defect, medication may be all that’s required to help the heart work more efficiently. Your paediatrician may prescribe a selection of drugs to relieve pressure on your child’s heart by lowering blood pressure, heart rate and fluid retention in the chest.

When it comes to childhood heart conditions, treatment plans may be combined or used independently to give your child the best outcome. Your child may require long-term treatment or no treatment at all, multiple procedures, or none at all. Whatever your child’s diagnosis, with the right care, you can still give them the chance to win at life. There’s really no better win than that.

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