Diagnosing Pediatric Heart Failure

Heart Failure and Recovery Program

Diagnosing Pediatric Heart Failure

What is Pediatric Heart Failure?

Heart failure doesn't mean the heart has stopped.

In most cases, heart failure simply means that the heart muscle isn't pumping as well as it should. This reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body.

Types of heart failure

There are two types of heart failure: systolic and diastolic.

Systolic heart failure is the most common form. With this type, the heart is so weak it can’t pump blood out to the body. So, the blood starts to back up into the lungs.

With diastolic heart failure, the heart muscle is thick and isn't able to relax enough to fill the heart with blood properly.

Heart Failure Causes

Heart failure isn't always apparent in children and teens.

Inborn heart defects can cause pediatric heart failure.

But even children born with normal hearts can develop heart muscle problems (cardiomyopathy) because of an:

  • Infection (myocarditis).
  • Inherited or metabolic condition that leads to heart failure.

When doctors don't know the exact cause of heart muscle problems, they call this idiopathic cardiomyopathy.

Heart Failure Symptoms in Children

In children, heart failure may cause symptoms such as:

  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Unusual weight gain.
  • Abnormal cough.
  • Growth failure.
  • Shortness of breath — sometimes even when lying down.

In infants, sweating during feeding can be a clue to heart failure.

Pediatric heart failure can go unnoticed at first and then suddenly seem to show up overnight.

Because heart failure can cause problems in other organs with more overt symptoms, doctors will sometimes overlook the heart as a cause. Instead, they might focus on the liver or digestive tract.

Diagnosing Pediatric Heart Failure

Diagnosing Pediatric Heart Failure If your child has shortness of breath or a poor appetite, your doctor might refer him or her to a heart specialist.

Your child's heart doctor will do a thorough:

  • Health history
  • Physical exam
  • Family history assessment

The doctor might also order tests such as:

Once your child's doctor confirms a heart failure diagnosis, he or she will discuss treatment options based on severity and symptoms.

Searching for New Ways to Treat Children with Heart Failure

Knowing the prevalence of heart failure in children is challenging because there are few national databases tracking this pediatric disease.

Researchers at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and other academic institutions are working to measure and track children affected by heart failure.

Through our research, we hope to:

  • Learn more about the impact of heart failure on children.
  • Find better, more consistent treatments for pediatric heart failure.

Contact the Heart Failure and Recovery Program

Contact the Heart Failure Program at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh at 412-692-5540 for details on:

  • Consults and second opinions.
  • Referrals for heart failure care.
  • Hospital transfers of children in acute heart failure.