WHAT IS PEDIATRIC CARDIOLOGY?
This is the study and treatment of disorders dealing with the heart as well as some parts of the circulatory system (blood vessels). The field includes medical diagnosis and treatment of congenital heart defects, coronary artery disease, heart failure, valvular heart disease and electrophysiology. Physicians who specialize in this field of medicine are called cardiologists. However, Pediatric cardiology focuses on the diagnosing and treatment of children, it is a part of cardiology dedicated to children. This is important because many times, most parents and the children themselves don't understand the issues that a child may be experiencing and therefore don't know what to expect. A pediatric cardiologist would be able to conduct tests in order to see if there are any problems without the use of invasive tools. Procedures are non-invasive, meaning that the tests will not involve needles or scalpels and such, but either sticky nodes for procedures such as ECG's or EKG's or other procedures such as X-rays. A cardiologist is not the same as a cardiac surgeon. A cardiac surgeon opens the chest and performs heart surgery. A cardiologist specializes in diagnosing and treating diseases of the cardiovascular system. Heart disease relates specifically to the heart, while cardiovascular disease affects the heart, the blood vessels or both.
WHY WOULD I NEED A CARDIOLOGIST?
If a person has symptoms of a heart condition, their physician may refer them to a cardiologist. In the case for children you would be referred to a pediatric cardiologist.
Symptoms that can indicate a heart problem in children include:
- Heart murmurs
- Syncope (fainting)
- Changes in heart rate or rhythm
- Difficulty feeding (infants)
A pediatric cardiologist can carry out tests for a heart irregularity or an abnormal heart rhythm. They often treat children even from the fetus stage since heart problems can be detected even before birth, who have had a heart attack, heart failure, or other heart problems. They help make decisions about heart surgery, heart catheterization, and angioplasty and stenting.
Heart diseases that a pediatric cardiologist can help with include:
- Atrial fibrillation
- Long Q-T syndrome
- Congenital heart disease
- Coronary heart disease
- Congestive heart disease
- High blood cholesterol and triglycerides
- Aortic stenosis
- Ebstein's anomaly
- Tetralogy of fallot
- High blood pressure, or hypertension
- Eisenmenger syndrome
- Kawasaki disease
Some of the above mentioned are not common in children and is unusual to see them affected with these symptoms. However, the case is different in children that are obese, have diabetes or other health issues and will be at a greater risk for children in the future, so parents must be careful with their children.
The pediatric cardiologist can give advice about preventing heart disease.
A person may need to see a cardiologist even without symptoms, if they have a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol, if they are or have been a smoker, if they have diabetes, or if they are starting a new exercise program.
WHAT TO EXPECT
A pediatric cardiologist will review the child's medical history for both the child and the family and carry out a physical examination. They may check the person's weight, heart, lungs, blood pressure, and blood vessels, and carry out some tests. An interventional cardiologist may carry out procedures such as angioplasties, stenting, valvuloplasties, congenital heart defect corrections, and coronary thrombectomies.
An echocardiography exam for children is a safe and painless test that allows the physician to evaluate the anatomy and function of the heart. It is one of the most widely used tests in children and is performed on children of all ages, including newborns and fetuses as an echo is basically an ultrasound or sound wave test of the heart. The test on average usually lasts between 30 to 60 minutes.
An electrocardiogram is a very common heart test, the tests last about 5 to 10 minutes and parents are allowed to be in the room with their child.
A chest x-ray allows the physician to have a view of the chest, including the heart, lungs and bones. It can give the physician valuable information about the heart, such as the size. The procedure takes 10 to 15 minutes. Depending on the size of the child, they may be lying down with the x-ray machine above them or standing with the x-ray machine in front of them. Parents are asked to stay outside of the x-ray room due to the radiation. The radiation exposure is minimal, an x-ray releases less radiation than being out in the sun.
A stress test is performed on a bicycle or treadmill, this will help measure the heart rate, blood pressure, irregular rhythm and how fit a patient is. The test is done on children who are able to walk and run on a treadmill and are mature enough to understand what is being asked of them, usually ages 5 and up.
A holter monitor is a 24-hour EKG test. This allows the physician to monitor the heart during a 24-hour period. Parents are required to record their children's heart status in a diary for changes in activity or other unusual events during the monitoring period.