February is National Heart Month. Oftentimes the focus may be on adults and heart disease, but children can have heart issues as well. In fact almost one in every 100 newborns in the United States is born with a congenital heart defect.
Children’s of Alabama is home to the Pediatric and Congenital Heart Center of Alabama, where more than 250 professionals are solely dedicated to children with heart disease. Dr. Yung Lau is a Pediatric Cardiologist at Children’s. He says heart issues in children are different from adults. “Usually in adults, heart disease is an acquired disease, something that has developed over a lifetime,” Lau says. “In pediatric cases, it’s more likely to be children born with hearts that aren’t properly formed from birth.”
Often parents are concerned their seemingly healthy child may have a heart complication during strenuous activity. Dr. Lau stresses the importance of a healthy diet and exercise to prevent heart disease from forming. He also says it’s very important for parents to fill out the Pre-Participation Physical before their child engages in sports. “The physical that is done and questionnaire is very important to identify children at risk for having sudden death on the playing field,” he says.
The Pre-Participation form will reveal many potential concerns including:
- serious illnesses among family members
- illnesses that kids had when they were younger or may have now, such as asthma, diabetes, or epilepsy
- previous hospitalizations or surgeries
- allergies (to insect bites, for example)
- past injuries (including concussions, sprains, or bone fractures)
- whether the child has ever passed out, felt dizzy, had chest pain, or had trouble breathing during exercise
- any medications taken (including over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements, and prescription medications)
It can be tempting for parents to be overly protective, especially when it comes to concerns about their child’s heart. But preventing children from living a normal life can often do more harm than good.
Thankfully advancements in diagnostic technologies can identify and provide detailed information about heart abnormalities. Advancements in medical knowledge, treatments, surgery and catheterization can help the majority of pediatric heart patients have a good quality of life.