Heart failure does not mean that one’s heart has stopped working entirely, but rather that it is struggling to keep up with the demands of the body for oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood. Children with heart failure typically have structural problems with the heart or the heart’s arteries that prevent the heart muscle from pumping blood efficiently, or they have developed heart muscle damage from a viral infection. Structural problems with the heart are present at birth and are referred to as congenital heart disease.
If your baby experiences difficulty breathing, fainting or stops eating, immediately seek emergency medical treatment. In older children, chest pain or fainting - or shortness of breath with chest pain, fainting or coughing with pink blood-tinged mucus - are signs that you should immediately seek emergency medical treatment.
Symptoms of heart failure in babies and children include the following:
- Failure to grow or gain weight in babies
- Fatigue during exercise in older children
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling in legs, ankles and feet
- Swelling in abdomen
- Lack of appetite
Getting Help for Heart Failure
If your child is diagnosed with heart failure, treatment will be directed at correcting the underlying cause of the condition. This treatment may consist of surgical treatments, minimally invasive interventional procedures where treatment is delivered to the heart or surrounding vessels through a thin tube called a catheter, and medications.
When you talk with your heart failure team, Questions to Ask Your Care Providers About Heart Failure can help guide your conversation. Additionally, Resources Related to Heart Failure can help you find a support network and more information.
If your child is having heart failure symptoms, the next stage will be diagnosis. A heart failure diagnosis will be made (or ruled out) based on your child’s medical history, a physical exam and tests. To learn more, visit Diagnosing Heart Failure.