Heart failure—or failure of the heart muscle to pump blood efficiently to the body—is not a common concern among children. However, children with some types of congenital heart defects (heart defects that are present at birth) are at high risk of heart failure. Additionally, even children who are born with healthy hearts may acquire heart failure due to damage to the heart muscle.
The focus of heart failure prevention is to treat underlying conditions that may cause heart failure:
- Congenital heart disease. For children with structural defects in the heart, treatment with surgery, catheter-based procedures (treatments delivered by a thin tube placed in a blood vessel) or medication will strive to make the heart’s circulation healthy and to lighten the workload of the heart muscle. After any surgeries or procedures have been performed, taking medication exactly as prescribed and following the exercise and diet advice of the child’s pediatric care team will be important to preventing heart failure.
- Infection of the heart muscle. Viruses, bacteria and fungi can infect the heart muscle—a condition called myocarditis. The treatment will depend on the cause. Antibiotics will be prescribed to treat a bacterial infection. In other types of infection, medications will be prescribed that can ease the workload of the heart while it heals.
- Rheumatic heart disease. In rheumatic heart disease, a strep throat infection progresses to rheumatic fever, which is an inflammatory condition that can cause permanent damage to the heart’s valves. The valves regulate blood flow through the heart, so damaged valves can harm the heart muscle’s ability to pump blood out to the body. Rheumatic heart disease is rare in the United States because of the availability of antibiotics to treat strep infections. To prevent damage to a child’s heart valves, be sure to seek a prompt diagnosis for a sore throat. Antibiotics will be prescribed if the sore throat proves to be a bacterial infection.
- Anemia. Anemia is when your bloodstream does not carry enough healthy red blood cells. A protein called hemoglobin in red blood cells delivers oxygen to the body’s tissues. In people who have anemia, the heart muscle will work harder to pump blood to the body to make up for the lack of oxygen. This can overwork the muscle and lead to heart failure. Identifying and treating anemia in children can help to prevent heart failure.
While all children are at risk of heart failure, it is uncommon in children who are born with healthy hearts. For more about diagnosing and treating children who are born with heart defects, see Congenital Heart Disease.