By Shaun Setty, M.D., medical director, Pediatric & Adult Congenital Cardiac Surgery, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach | Each year approximately 40,000 babies are born in the United States with a congenital heart defect, and twice as many children die from congenital heart defects than from all forms of childhood cancer combined. When it comes down to your child’s health it is critical to know if their heart is healthy.

Congenital heart disease is a defect or malformation of blood vessels or the heart structure that occurs before birth. Depending on the defect, symptoms can appear right away or, oddly enough, may not manifest until adulthood. The defects can range from a “hole” between two heart chambers, abnormal heart valve development, abnormal connections between veins/arteries and the heart, to the extreme of missing heart chambers, and anything in between. Many congenital heart defects require surgery by pediatric congenital heart surgeons to correct these heart defects and avoid problems in the future.

Congenital heart defects are America’s most common birth defect. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of congenital heart disease because it can be the difference in saving your child’s life.

There are many different signs that can indicate congenital heart disease, but they all factor on what your child’s specific defect is. With that being said there are several signs and symptoms that are more common than others that you should be looking out for.

  1. Heart Murmurs
    Heart murmurs commonly present themselves during well-child checkups when you go see your pediatrician. If your pediatrician hears a heart murmur, an ultrasound of your child’s heart may be ordered to see if there is an underlying heart defect.
  2. Constant Heavy Breathing
    If your baby is constantly breathing hard, especially when feeding, that is a warning sign. A baby may seem perfectly normal when their body isn’t stressed, but once they start feeding the stress can make them stop feeding, start to breathe hard or get really sweaty.
  3. Not Growing
    If your baby is feeding regularly and they are not showing any signs of gaining weight or growing appropriately.
  4. Blue Skin/Lips
    In children, if their skin starts to turn blue, that is called Cyanosis. This occurs because the ability to have a normal oxygen level is compromised by the heart defect and their skin, nails or lips can turn blue, especially when crying.
  5. Extreme Fatigue
    If your child gets tired very quickly or easily, or their hearts race, during physical activity, this could be a sign that their heart can’t maintain the ability to meet their body’s needs.

Get down to the heart of the matter – be aware of the potential warning signs.

The Pediatric Heart Center at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach includes any specialist that may be needed for a congenital heart defect, cardiologist for all ages-baby to adult, cardiac surgery for all ages, interventional procedures and an electrophysiologist who is a cardiologist who specializes in heart rhythms.

If you feel your child could have a congenital heart defect, or you would like to learn more, contact the comprehensive Pediatric Heart Center at Miller Children’s at (855) 999-MCH1 (6241).