Heart Failure in Children

It can be frightening to hear that your child may be suffering from heart failure. Our pediatric cardiologists have been diagnosing and taking care of children with heart failure since the early 1990’s.

We are committed to providing the latest treatments. Over the decades, we have grown our expertise,   and we offer a dedicated team approach to treat your child. We use the most effective medication and surgery if needed, depending on the strength of your child’s heart and overall health.

Going beyond our hospital, Children’s Heart Center—an alliance between Mount Sinai and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)—expands our team to include the experts from CHOP. Today, you can make an appointment quickly and easily at Children’s Heart Center in New York City. You also can get a second opinion from a doctor over 100 miles away at one of the nation’s leading children’s hospitals, according to U.S. News and World Report.

About Heart Failure

Heart failure is a serious condition that is also known as congestive heart failure. Heart failure means that the pumping power of your child’s heart is weak.  There are varying degrees of weakness. The condition ranges from mild to very severe and even life-threatening. Your child’s heart failure needs to be diagnosed and treated by pediatric heart specialists.

Usually, the cause of heart failure is an underlying condition that prevents the heart from pumping properly. That pumping weakness may be from some physical defect within the heart, such as a congenital heart defect (present at birth). Cardiomyopathy, which makes the heart stiff and prevents it from pumping well, may also lead to heart failure.

Other causes of heart failure include:

  • Heart valve defects
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats)
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Viral infection
  • Harmful effects of medication, such as chemotherapy

Symptoms of Heart Failure

Symptoms vary depending on your child’s age. In your baby, you may notice fast breathing, difficulty feeding and poor growth and low energy. 

If your child is four years of age and older, symptoms may include a sudden change in weight, shortness of breath, poor appetite and low energy, or:

  • Nausea
  • Coughing and congested lungs
  • Swollen legs, ankles, eyelids, and face
  • A tendency to become cold and clammy

How We Diagnose Heart Failure

At Children’s Heart Center, we use a team approach to provide your child the best possible care, which starts with a diagnosis. To properly diagnose your child’s heart condition, we need to know how well the heart is pumping blood to the rest of the body. We also need to discover the cause of the heart failure and how severe it is. An accurate diagnosis will help us find the best way to treat your child.

We will start by asking you questions about your family’s medical history which may have an impact on your child’s condition. We also will ask about your child’s symptoms and recent illnesses.

To diagnose heart failure we may use the following: 

  • Physical exam—checks the pulse, blood pressure, temperature, and number of breaths your child takes a minute. With a stethoscope, the doctor listens to how the heart sounds, and examines the rest of your child’s body for signs of heart failure.
  • Chest X-ray—shows the size of the heart and checks the lung fields for fluid.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)—checks the electrical activity and rhythm of the heart.
  • Echocardiogram—a safe, noninvasive procedure that uses high frequency ultrasound. It shows the structure of your child’s pumping chambers. We can measure how blood flows through the heart. And, it gives an overall view into how your child’s heart and circulatory system are working.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)—imaging method that uses safe, powerful magnets and radio waves. An MRI creates pictures of your child’s heart.
  • Cardiac catheterization—while your child is under anesthesia, we perform this procedure. It accurately measures the pressure of the heart’s chambers. It also shows how much blood is being pumped to evaluate how severe your child’s heart failure is.

How We Treat Heart Failure

Our goal in treatment is to allow your child to continue to participate in regular activities. Often, the first line of treatment is the least invasive, and may include medications, such as: 

  • Diuretics— remove and prevent the buildup of fluids
  • ACE inhibitors—dilate blood vessels and help blood pump to the body
  • Beta blockers—lower blood pressure and slow the heart to help it pump efficiently
  • Digoxin—helps the heart beat stronger
  • Newer medications—offered as part of multi-center trials and hold a great deal of promise in reversing heart failure

If there is an underlying congenital heart defect, we have surgical approaches we can use to correct the defect. Another treatment option may be the use of a special device that can help regulate your child’s heart and strengthen its pumping power.

If those treatments do not work to relieve your child’s symptoms, your child may benefit from having a heart transplant. If the time comes when your child needs a heart transplant, we will take care of your child while waiting for a donor heart, using medicines and ventricular assist devices (VAD) as needed.

Our Alliance with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)

Children’s Heart Center is an alliance between Mount Sinai and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). This innovative alliance brings together the expertise of two world-leading institutions for the best possible outcomes. Together, we offer the most effective treatment and compassionate cardiac care for your child here in New York City.

Why Choose Children’s Heart Center?

Our Children’s Heart Center provides a caring setting where your child is comfortable and safe. Your child will get care from our dedicated doctors and staff. Our doctors work together as a team to develop a treatment plan especially for your child. Our doctors are always available to answer your questions and to explain what’s going on.  Everything we do is to benefit your child’s care and quality of life.