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The Children’s Hospital Answers Parents’ Heart Questions

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Every month, we’ll be featuring a Q & A from Children’s Hospital on a different health topic, as it relates to you or your children. This month’s topic is all about the heart!

How does the heart work?

The heart is the strongest muscle in the body, separated into four chambers: right atrium (upper chamber), right ventricle (lower chamber), left atrium, and left ventricle. Unoxygenated (blue) blood enters the right atrium, goes through the right ventricle and to the lungs, via the pulmonary artery. In the lungs, blood picks up oxygen (red), and reenters the heart’s left atrium through the pulmonary veins. From there, it goes through the left ventricle, then to the rest of the body via the aorta, supplying the body with oxygenated (red) blood. This delivers energy to all the cells in the body, a cycle repeated more than 100,000 times a day.

How does a baby’s heart develop?

During development in the womb, the baby relies upon its mother for oxygen through the placenta and blood flows through the heart, which is still a single-pump system. The heart completes development from a single straight tube into a complex four-chambered pump containing four valves. After delivery, a baby’s lungs will begin to function as the passages that allowed him to receive oxygenated blood from the mother close.

When and how do you discover heart defects in children?

Most heart defects remain hidden until birth when the baby becomes reliant on his own heart and lungs to provide the proper oxygen and blood flow needed. A child’s doctor or pediatric cardiologist may discover a heart defect at birth or during examination for a heart murmur, irregular heart rate, palpitations or fainting episodes.

What is congenital heart disease?

Congenital heart disease appears at birth due to the abnormal development of a baby’s heart in the early stages of pregnancy. In some cases, doctors can detect this heart defect before birth.

What is acquired heart disease?

With acquired heart disease, the child develops heart problems later in life, usually as a result of bacterial or viral infections.

Can children outgrow heart defects?

Many children outgrow heart problems and may just need temporary monitoring or treatment during the growing years.

What are some common heart tests?

Doctors use several tests to diagnose possible heart problems in children. These tests are also often used on an ongoing basis in follow-up care. Some tests include:

* Lab Tests
* Echocardiogram Electrocardiogram (EKG) and Holter Monitor
* Exercise Test
* Chest X-Ray, CT Scan or MRI
* Diagnostic Catheterization
* Electrophysiology (EP) Studies

How do you treat childhood heart defects?

No two heart problems are the same, so children with the same diagnosis might undergo different treatment plans, depending on their situation. Some children will receive medication, some will have surgery, and others may receive a new heart.

Must all children with heart defects receive surgery?

Heart catheterization labs can now correct many defects that once required open-heart surgery. By using interventional catheterization techniques, doctors can repair a child’s heart using less invasive approaches for a quicker recovery.

When does a child need heart surgery?

Surgery can be a solution for children who need their heart structures repaired or blood circulations corrected. These repairs can range from the simple, such as closing a hole, to the complex, such as rerouting blood streams.

When does a child need a heart transplant?

When no repair can help a child’s failing heart, he or she may need a transplant. A transplant occurs when a failing heart is replaced by a healthy heart from a recently deceased donor.

What is multidisciplinary heart care?

This means that experts in many areas of healthcare work together to help solve problems related to your child’s heart. This multidisciplinary team can include pediatric cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons, cardiac intensivists, pediatric cardiac anesthesiologists, cardiac-trained nurses and nurse practitioners, registered dieticians and medical social workers. These specialized professionals help to provide integrated care throughout your child’s diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Learn more about the multidisciplinary heart team at The Children’s Hospital

What is the Heart Institute at The Children’s Hospital?

The Children’s Hospital Heart Institute is an international leader in pediatric cardiac care, serving families and their unborn fetuses, newborns, infants, children, adolescents and young adults. It is one of only eight stand-alone pediatric research centers in the nation and one of the fastest-growing pediatric cardiac programs in the country. It is the only full-service, pediatric cardiac care center in a seven-state region, providing inpatient care and operating clinics on the Anschutz Medical Campus, as well as in satellite clinics across metro Denver and throughout Colorado and Wyoming, all equipped to fit the various sizes of children we treat.

Led by cardiologist Dunbar Ivy, MD, The Heart Institute’s multidisciplinary team of pediatric cardiologists, surgeons, nurses, techs, social workers and others ensures that children have access to excellent pediatric cardiac care. A partnership with the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine ensures cutting-edge research in pediatric cardiac care. We see patients with all forms of congenital and acquired heart disease. In addition to heart transplants, our pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons perform more than 580 heart surgeries on infants, children and adolescents annually.

Learn more about The Children’s Hospital Heart Institute

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