Different types of heart disease can affect children and teens. Some may be present at birth, while others may develop due to infections and other factors.
Many different types of heart problems can affect children and teens. They can include:
- congenital heart defects
- infections that affect the heart
- heart disease acquired in childhood due to illnesses or genetic syndromes
The good news is that with treatment, many children and teens with heart disease go on to live active, full lives.
We’ll cover the types of heart disease that typically affect children and teens and how doctors treat them.
Congenital heart disease
Congenital heart disease (CHD) is a type of heart disease you are born with. It occurs due to heart defects that are present at birth. In the U.S., an estimated 1% of babies born each year have CHD.
CHDs that affect children and teens can include:
- heart valve disorders like a narrowing of the aortic valve, which restricts blood flow
- hypoplastic left heart syndrome, where the left side of the heart is underdeveloped
- disorders involving holes in the heart, typically in the walls between the chambers and between major blood vessels leaving the heart, including:
- ventricular septal defects
- atrial septal defects
- patent ductus arteriosus
- tetralogy of Fallot, which is a combination of four defects, including:
- a hole in the ventricular septum
- a narrowed passage between the right ventricle and pulmonary artery
- a thickened right side of the heart
- a displaced aorta
Congenital heart defects may have long-term effects on your health. They’re usually treated with surgery, catheter procedures, medications, and in severe cases, heart transplants.
Some people with CHDs will require lifelong monitoring and treatment.
Atherosclerosis occurs when fat and cholesterol-filled plaques build up inside arteries. As the buildup increases, arteries become stiffened and narrowed, which increases the risk of blood clots and heart attacks. It typically takes many years for atherosclerosis to develop. While it is not common for children or teenagers to experience symptoms from it, some evidence suggests that the disease may begin in childhood.
Some health issues and other factors may increase the risk. These can include:
Doctors screen all children for high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Doctors may screen children with certain risk factors earlier. Treatment typically involves lifestyle changes like increased exercise and dietary modifications.
An arrhythmia is an abnormal rhythm of the heart. It can cause the heart to pump less efficiently.
Many different types of arrhythmias may occur in children, including:
- a fast heart rate (tachycardia), the most common type found in children being supraventricular tachycardia
- a slow heart rate (bradycardia)
- long Q-T Syndrome (LQTS)
- Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome (WPW syndrome)
Symptoms may include:
- difficulty feeding
Treatments depend on the type of arrhythmia and how it affects the child’s health.
Kawasaki disease is a rare disease primarily affecting children under 5 years old. It can cause inflammation in the blood vessels in the:
- heart arteries
It also produces a fever and swelling in the lymph nodes. Researchers aren’t sure yet what causes it.
Treatment depends on the extent of the disease but often involves prompt treatment with:
- intravenous gamma globulin
- aspirin, if recommended by a doctor
- corticosteroids, which may reduce future complications
Children with Kawasaki disease often require lifelong follow-up appointments to monitor their heart health.
Aspirin use in children
While doctors may use aspirin to treat certain health conditions in children, using it at home as a fever reducer can be dangerous. In children with a viral infection, aspirin can cause Reye syndrome, a rare disorder that causes brain and liver damage.
A heart murmur is a sound made by blood circulating through the heart’s chambers or valves, or through blood vessels near the heart. Often it’s harmless. Other times it may signal an underlying cardiovascular problem.
Heart murmurs may develop due to:
If a doctor hears an abnormal heart murmur in a child, they’ll perform additional tests on the heart. “Innocent” heart murmurs usually resolve by themselves, but if the heart murmur is caused by a problem with the heart, it may require additional treatment.
This condition occurs when the thin sac or membrane that surrounds the heart (pericardium) becomes inflamed or infected. The amount of fluid between its two layers increases, impairing the heart’s ability to pump blood the way it should.
Pericarditis has a few different causes. These can include:
- surgery to repair a CHD
- bacterial infections, viral infections, or fungal infections
- autoimmune diseases like lupus
Treatments depend on the severity of the disease, age, and overall health.
An infection with group A streptococcus bacteria that causes strep throat and scarlet fever can also cause rheumatic heart disease. It usually appears around 2—3 weeks after an infection. This disease can permanently damage the heart valves and the heart muscle by causing heart muscle inflammation, known as myocarditis.
Rheumatic fever typically occurs in children ages 5 to 15, but usually, the symptoms of rheumatic heart disease don’t show up until adulthood. Rheumatic fever and subsequent rheumatic heart disease are more common in developing countries.
This disease can be prevented by promptly treating strep throat with antibiotics.
Viral, bacterial, and fungal infections can cause myocarditis, which may affect the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body.
Infections of the heart are rare and may show few symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they’re similar to flu-like symptoms and can include:
- shortness of breath
- chest discomfort
Treatment typically involves medications and treatments for the symptoms of myocarditis.
The following includes frequently asked questions about heart disease in children and teens.
What are the most common heart diseases in children?
More common heart diseases in children in the United States include congenital heart diseases and acquired heart diseases, such as Kawasaki disease.
How do you know if your child has heart problems?
A child or teen may show some indicators of heart problems, such as trouble gaining weight, shortness of breath during activity, heart palpitations, and passing out during activity.
What is the most common cause of heart disease in children and teens?
The most common cause of heart disease in children is a congenital heart defect, which is a problem with the heart that was present at birth.
What are the types of acquired heart disease in children?
Children and teens can develop heart disease due to certain health issues, including Kawasaki disease, rheumatic fever, bacterial, viral, or fungal infections, and trauma.
While many types of heart disease can affect children and teens, treatments may help them live a full and active life.
Some types of heart disease may be present at birth, while others may develop due to infections or other health issues. In some cases, prompt treatment can resolve illnesses that cause heart disease. In other cases, children or teens may need lifelong monitoring and care.