Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
 

Heart Failure

Heart Conditions in Children - Heart Failure

What is heart failure?

Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, is a condition in which the heart cannot pump enough oxygenated blood to meet the needs of the body's other organs. The heart keeps pumping, but not as efficiently as a healthy heart. Usually, the heart's diminished capacity to pump reflects a progressive, underlying condition.

What causes heart failure?

Heart failure often occurs in children with congenital (present at birth) heart defects. Other medical problems that can cause heart failure include, but are not limited to, the following:

Many congenital heart defects have the potential to lead to heart failure over time, whether or not the defect was treated surgically. Congenital heart defects that more often develop heart failure include, but are not limited to, the following:

How does heart failure affect the body?

Heart failure can affect the right side of the heart, the left side of the heart, or both sides.

When the right side of the heart begins to function less efficiently, it is unable to pump much blood forward into the vessels of the lungs. Because of the congestion in the right side of the heart, blood flow begins to back up into the veins. Eventually, swelling is noticed in the feet, ankles, lower legs, eyelids, and abdomen due to fluid retention.

When the left side of the heart fails, it is unable to pump blood forward out to the body efficiently. Blood begins to back up into the vessels in the lungs, and the lungs become stressed. Breathing becomes faster and more difficult. Also, the body does not receive enough blood to meet its needs, resulting in fatigue and poor growth in children.

What are the symptoms of heart failure?

The following are the most common symptoms of heart failure. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The severity of the condition and symptoms depends on how much of the heart's pumping capacity has been affected.

The symptoms of heart failure may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's health care provider for a diagnosis.

How is heart failure diagnosed?

Your child's health care provider will obtain a complete medical history and physical examination, asking questions about your child's appetite, breathing patterns, and energy level. Other diagnostic procedures for heart failure may include:

Treatment of heart failure

Specific treatment for heart failure will be determined by your child's health care provider based on:

If heart failure is caused by a congenital (present at birth) heart defect or an acquired heart problem, such as rheumatic valve disease, surgical repair of the problem may be necessary. Medications are often helpful in treating heart failure initially. Eventually, medications may lose their effectiveness and many congenital heart defects will need to be repaired surgically. Medications may also be used after surgery to help improve heart function during the healing period.

Medications that are commonly prescribed to treat heart failure in children may include some of the following:

Cardiac resynchronization therapy, or device therapy, is a newer treatment for heart failure. Device therapy uses a special type of pacemaker that paces both sides of the heart simultaneously to coordinate contractions and improve pumping ability.

For more specific information regarding heart failure treatment, consult your child's health care provider.

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