• Acquired Heart Disease in Children

    Sick Child with Teddybear

    Heart disease that develops after birth is described as an acquired heart disease. This is in contrast to congenital heart disease, which is present at birth. Acquired heart disease in children may represent diagnoses that do not occur in adults (for example, Kawasaki Disease) or may be similar to conditions present in adults (for example, dilated cardiomyopathy). The more common heart disease often seen in adults in which blockages in the heart's arteries lead to chest pain or heart attack is much more rare in children. 

    Among the more common heart conditions acquired during childhood are rheumatic heart disease and Kawasaki disease. Children who have been diagnosed with and treated for congenital heart defects may be at increased risk of acquiring endocarditis and cardiomyopathy. And some children and young adults develop abnormal heartbeats, called arrhythmias.

    Types of acquired heart disease include: 

  • More About Acquired Heart Disease in Children

    Abnormal Heart Rhythm

    An abnormal heart rhythm – or heart beat – is called an arrhythmia (a-RITH-mi-a) or dysrhythmia (dis-RITH-mi-a). The number of heart beats in a minute determines the heart rate. Normal heart rates change as a child matures. The heart of a newborn baby normally beats about 140 times per minute. A five-year-old may have a heart rate of 100 beats a minute. And the normal heart rate of an older child or teenager at rest is about 70 beats a minute.

    Acquired Heart Disease

    A heart disease that develops after birth is described as an acquired heart disease.

    Cardiomyopathy

    In cardiomyopathy (car-dio-My-o-PA-thy), the heart muscle becomes inflamed and is unable to work as well as it should.

    Dilated Cardiomyopathy

    In dilated cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle weakens and the heart becomes enlarged. As the heart becomes stretched, its lower chambers (ventricles) are less able to pump blood efficiently. Eventually, the heart is not able to pump enough blood to the body and the lungs become congested - a condition called heart failure. Abnormal heart rhythms may also result when the heart becomes enlarged. 

    Endocarditis

    Endocarditis, or infective endocarditis, occurs when the inner lining of the heart (the endocardium) or the heart’s valves become infected by bacteria or other germs. The bacteria that cause endocarditis typically spread through the bloodstream from the mouth, from infected foreign bodies such as needles, or from another part of the body to the heart.

    High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

    High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects 10 to 15 percent of the school-age population, according to several studies. Even babies can have high blood pressure.

    Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)

    Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a disease in which the muscle of the lower left chamber of the heart (the left ventricle) becomes abnormally thick and enlarged.

    Kawasaki Disease

    Kawasaki disease is a rare condition where the body’s immune system attacks the body’s own tissues. This results in inflammation of blood vessels (including those supplying blood to the heart - the coronary arteries) and of the heart muscles.

    Kinds of Abnormal Heart Rhythms

    Some abnormal heart rhythms are fast, others are slow and some are irregular. How an arrhythmia is treated depends on the kind of abnormal beat. Read more about arrhythmias that most commonly develop in children and young adults:

    Myocarditis

    Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle. It is most often caused by a virus, but can also be caused by bacteria, a fungus or even certain chemicals. In response to the infection, the body turns against its own heart muscle. It is not known why the viral infection affects the hearts of some people but not of most others. Some cases of myocarditis are very mild and patients recover on their own without the need for any treatment. Other cases can be much more serious and sometimes life threatening.

    Pericarditis

    Pericarditis is a condition in which the sac-like tissue that surrounds the heart (pericardium) becomes inflamed, swollen or irritated. The amount of fluid that surrounds the heart within the pericardial sac can increase and cause a condition called a pericardial effusion. An electrocardiogram (EKG) may show signs of this, and an echocardiogram is the definitive test to assess for the build-up of fluid around the heart.

    Rheumatic Heart Disease (Rheumatic Fever)

    In rheumatic heart disease (also called rheumatic fever), the heart valves are damaged by substances (antibodies) that the body produces to fight streptococcal (strep) infection.

    The Heart’s Electrical System

    Each heart beat is generated by the heart's special electrical system. Specialized tissues within the heart generate electrical impulses that cause the heart muscles to contract, or squeeze tight.