Heart Disease in Children

There are two major types of heart problems in children–congenital and acquired. Congenital heart defects develop before birth when the baby’s heart is forming. The cause and prevention of most of these problems is unknown. On the average, for every 1000 births, six to eight babies have congenital heart defects. Many mild defects require no treatment. Other defects, described as moderate to severe, must be treated.

The second type of heart problem that occurs in children is acquired heart disease. This problem appears after birth. Usually it is the result of damage done to the heart by a disease, virus or bacteria. The most common acquired heart problem is caused by rheumatic fever. In some children with acquired heart disease, a cause cannot be found.

There is a significant difference between heart disease (congenital or acquired) that affects children and the type of heart disease that affects adults. Adults have coronary artery disease that may cause heart attacks. Heart disease that affects children is different from coronary artery disease and usually does not cause heart attacks.

Some parents question whether having one child with heart disease will increase the chance of having another child with a similar problem. If there is no other relative with congenital heart disease, the risk is only slightly greater. This fact should not prevent you from planning another pregnancy. If you would like more information or statistics, the cardiologists will be happy to talk with you.

For more information about congenital heart disease, visit the American Heart Association.