What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a condition that occurs when the heart is not pumping blood through the body as effectively as it should. This condition is also called congestive heart failure. People of all ages can have heart failure, including infants, children and teenagers. In children, heart failure is usually caused by a heart problem the child is born with.

Heart failure can affect either side of a child’s heart. When it occurs on the left side of the heart, the heart has difficulty pumping blood to the body, and blood then backs up into the vessels and lungs. When it affects the right side of the heart, the heart has difficulty pumping blood to the lungs causing blood to back up in the liver and veins. In some cases, heart failure can affect both sides of the heart.

What are the symptoms of heart failure?

The symptoms of heart failure can vary greatly from one child to another. It is important to talk to your medical care team about your child’s specific symptoms. Common symptoms in children may include:

  • Fast breathing
  • Shortness of breath or heavy breathing
  • Swelling (edema) of the legs, ankles, feet, eyelids, face or abdomen
  • Tiring easily
  • Poor feeding or growth
  • Excessive sweating
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Nausea
  • Coughing or lung congestion

What causes heart disease?

Heart failure in children is most commonly caused by a congenital heart defect the child is born with. Children can also develop this condition as a result of infection or another medical condition such as cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats), heart valve disease, anemia or high blood pressure.

How is heart disease treated?

Your child’s treatment for heart failure will depend on their age and how severe their condition is. Your care team at Arkansas Children’s is experienced in treating heart failure and will work with you to come up with the best treatment plan for your child. Treatment options may include:

  • Medications to help the heart more effectively pump, relieve congestion and edema, or slow down the child’s heart rate
  • Ventricular assistive device (VAD) -- a battery-operated pump that works with the heart to improve blood flow
  • Surgery to fix the heart defect

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