3 Ways Pediatricians May Suspect Heart Defects

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Congenital or acquired heart defects are not uncommon in children. While many cardiac problems are diagnosed at birth, some may not be noticed until years later. Although certain symptoms of heart disease in children may be severe, others may be very subtle. Here are three ways pediatricians might suspect a heart defect in your child:

Tachycardia And Bradycardia

Common symptoms of pediatric heart defects include cardiac arrhythmia, or an abnormal heart rhythm. When your child's pediatrician auscultates the heart, he or she will listen for murmurs, as well as how fast or slow the heart beats. If the doctor notices an abnormally fast heart rate, the diagnosis may be tachycardia.

Conversely, if the heart rate is abnormally slow, bradycardia may be the diagnosis. Treatment for tachycardia may include beta blockers such as propranolol, which will help slow down a fast heart rate so that the cardiovascular system is less stressed. Treatment for bradycardia may include a pacemaker insertion, however, the decision to insert a pacemaker will be make by the pediatric cardiologist. 


If the pediatrician notices that your child's fingernails have a bluish hue to them, or if his or her lips look dusky, cyanosis may be present. While cyanotic fingernails and lips can be caused by a number of medical conditions, cardiovascular disease is sometimes the culprit.

Cyanosis usually indicates poor oxygenation, and if the pediatrician suspects this, a test known as an arterial blood gas test may be ordered. In addition to this, an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, or cardiac stress test may also be recommended. Once optimal oxygenation has been restored through proper medical intervention, your child's fingernail and lip color will return to normal.

Fluid Retention

Another symptom that may help your child's pediatrician diagnose heart disease is fluid retention. When the heart's pumping ability is not healthy enough to sustain optimal circulation, your child may retain fluid. Fluid retention, also known as edema, can develop in the face, abdomen, hands, and feet.

Fluid retention may also indicate renal problems, however, if it is accompanied by an abnormal heart rate or unusual heart sounds, the doctor may suspect cardiovascular disease. While treating your child with medications known as diuretics will help the body release excess fluid, the cause of the fluid retention needs to be determined and treated.

If you suspect that your child may have a heart problem, make an appointment with a pediatrician. The sooner cardiovascular problems are recognized  and treated, the more likely your child will be to have a favorable prognosis.