We know that February is heart month, but did you know that February 7-15 is Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) Awareness Week? Many people do not, nor do they know much about CHD’s. Sadly, 1 in 100 children are affected by these defects. According to the American Heart Association, “over 1.3 million Americans alive today have some form of congenital heart defect”. Many causes remain unknown, but some are tied to genetics or environmental exposures. Thankfully, more children are being diagnosed in utero and a treatment plan can be formed prior to birth. Many children are also diagnosed immediately after birth with the use of pulse oximetry testing, as well as other symptoms becoming evident. Symptoms of a potential heart defect include:
- grey/blueish skin color
- breathing difficulties
- feeding problems – tire easily
- poor weight gain
What does this mean for you if you have seemingly heart healthy kids? Many kids can have an underlying heart condition that was not caught as an infant. It is important to ask for testing if you suspect any issues, particularly if your child is involved in any extracurricular activities that are physically demanding. Symptoms to watch out for in older kids:
- tire easily during physical activity
- short of breath during physical activity (more than usual)
- swelling in the ankles, feet, legs abdomen and/or veins in the neck
Thankfully, many schools often require a sports physical be done prior to participation. One thing to ask about, if not already required during the physical, is having an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) done. They can help identify any abnormal heart rates and electrical system issues. However, they will not be able to catch any structural issues that may be lurking. Many schools do not require the use of echocardiograms if there is a clean EKG. Discuss with your child’s pediatrician if an echocardiogram would be of benefit for your child.
Keep your entire family heart healthy by making sure everyone is getting their yearly physicals, staying active, and eating a balanced diet. Get your biometric screenings for Designed Wellness to ensure you stay up to date on your own health and visit the online portal for tips on staying active, ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet, and how to keep your stress levels under control. Remember, your job as a parent is to lead by example, so make sure you demonstrate all of the healthy behaviors and steps to prevention that you want your children to adopt.