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Top 3 Questions Families Should Ask During Heart Month

Posted on Feb 21, 2018

Jamie Decker, M.D., with patient and family

How do I know if my child has a heart problem?

Even before birth some expectant mothers find out at an ultrasound that their child may have a heart condition. Many times their specialist will continue to watch the condition for any changes, but oftentimes, the baby may be born with what’s called a congenital heart defect (CHD). These can result as part of genetic abnormalities, but most often the cause is unknown. CHDs are the most common birth defects affecting about 40,000 babies each year, and many are treatable.

There are many congenital heart defects to learn about, but some of the common conditions include:

  • a hole in the heart between the bottom chambers called ventricular septal defect (VSD)
  • a hole in the heart between the top chambers called atrial septal defect (ASD)
  • underdevelopment on the left side of the heart known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome
  • a combination of multiple heart defects known as tetralogy of Fallot.

For other children, heart conditions may not show up until later in life. Some of the more common conditions include the below, and parents should watch for the following signs and symptoms:

  • acquired valve disease, indicated by exercise intolerance, shortness of breath, chest pain, passing out
  • cardiomyopathy, signs of which include feeding intolerance in infants, exercise intolerance, palpitations, passing out, fatigue
  • arrhythmias, marked by palpitations, chest pain, abdominal pain, passing out, sudden death
  • heart murmurs, which generally don't present symptoms and might not be of concern

The Johns Hopkins All Children’s cardiogenetics program provides a comprehensive cardiac evaluation and contemporary management of patients who have genetic diseases that predispose them to having heart conditions.

Overall, families should contact a pediatric cardiologist or visit an emergency room if they notice any of the symptoms below, which could indicate a heart condition:

  • abnormal heart rate or pulse
  • rapid breathing or difficulty breathing
  • chest pain
  • blue lips, tongue or nailbeds
  • trouble during physical activity
  • extreme weight loss
  • extreme sweating

How can my family become more heart-healthy?

Heart month is a reminder for all families to eat right and stay active in order to prevent heart disease and obesity later in life. Johns Hopkins All Children’s supports the 9-5-2-1-0 strategy:

  • 9 hours of sleep
  • 5 servings of fruits and vegetables
  • 2 hours or less of screen time
  • 1 hour of physical activity
  • 0 sugar-sweetened beverages

“We are seeing more and more younger patients with obesity and high blood pressure," says Jamie Decker, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist. "Although some of this can be genetic in nature, healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating a well-balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and good sleep hygiene, are important to reducing the development of these conditions. It is now recognized that adult-onset coronary artery disease starts early in life, making these choices very important for parents.”

How can I learn CPR?

According to the American Heart Association, about 70 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests happen in the home. Unfortunately, only about 46 percent of people who experience an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest get the immediate help that they need before an emergency responder arrives. If more people knew CPR, more lives would be saved.

“We hope no parent ever needs to perform CPR, but being prepared for the worst case scenario is critical and could mean a matter of life and death,” says Jen Arnold, M.D., M.Sc., FAAP, medical director of simulation at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Dr. Arnold adds that every family should at least learn the two basic steps of Hands-Only CPR:

  1. Call 9-1-1
  2. Push hard and fast in the center of the chest at 100-120 beats per minute (try it to the beat of songs like Elton John’s “Stayin’ Alive.” 

Keep in mind that conventional CPR (rescue breaths and chest compressions) is recommended for infants and children under the age of 18 in cardiac arrest. You can visit the American Heart Association’s website to look for CPR classes near you. 

Have you seen this sign in your child’s school or in a public place?

Another lifesaving tool is for someone trained in CPR to put an automated external defibrillator (AED) on a person in cardiac arrest as soon as possible.  An AED is an easy-to-use medical device that can recognize a person’s heart rhythm and deliver an electrical shock when needed. Children over age 8 can be treated with a standard AED, but children ages 1-8 years will need pediatric pads that can be purchased with the AED. The American Heart Association offers CPR and AED training through its network of training centers.

Visit Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute to learn more about heart problems in children and the services provided.

 


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