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Pediatric Health

Happy, Healthy Hearts

How to Keep Your Child's Heart Healthy

February 01, 2011
Most kids are born with a Healthy heart—a fact many of us take for granted. That's why it's important to keep your child's heart in shape with heart-healthy food and plenty of cardio exercise. There are times, however, when something with your child's heart seems concerning. Maybe your son has been complaining of chest pain, or you've been told during a routine well check that your toddler has a heart murmur. Suddenly, a healthy heart seems much more fragile.

Dr Sanjay Parikh, pediatric cardiologist and medical director of the Children's Heart Center at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent, shares with parents that heart murmurs and chest pains – while not to be ignored – are often not indicators of heart disease or other underlying heart problems.

So what are they then?

Hearing more than a lub-dub

A heart murmur is a swishing or a whistling sound that is heard when listening to the heart through a stethoscope. Normally, a heart makes two sounds – lub dub (technically known as 'first' and 'second' heart sounds) – as it beats. But with a heart murmur, a swishing or a whistling sound is heard in addition to the normal lub-dub sound.

"Heart murmurs are basically extra sounds or noises that occur between heart beats," Dr. Parikh explains. "Sometimes it can be an indicator of heart disease, but more often than not, there's no rhyme or reason to the murmur and it's nothing to be concerned about."

Heart murmurs that are unrelated to any heart issues are called "innocent" or "functional" murmurs. Typically, they are harmless and have no impact on the body. In rare cases, however, heart murmurs may result from a hole in the heart, thickening or weakness in heart muscle or a narrowed or leaky heart valve.

Getting to the heart of the pain

Dr. Parikh said chest pains are another common non-cardiac ailment in kids—and also one that typically has nothing to do with the health of the heart. Chest pain can have a variety of sources, and virtually any structure in the chest can cause pain, including the lungs, ribs, chest wall muscles and diaphragm. Chest pain may also be due to problems not related to the chest such as heartburn or acid refluxing from the stomach.

Injuries and inflammation may also be the culprit. Falls are an obvious cause of chest pain, but musculoskeletal chest pain can also occur from less obvious ones, such as heavy lifting, frequent coughing or intense exercise. Additionally, inflammation in the chest area, such as between the breastbone and the ribs, may also bring on pain.

Although stress or anxiety may be responsible for chest pain, most physicians, especially pediatric cardiologists, may not have the expertise to determine if this is the case. Common stressors in children or teens may include school examinations, peer pressure or bullying, friendship or boyfriend/girlfriend relationship problems.

Although less common in children, cardiac conditions associated with chest pain may include inflammation of the heart lining, coronary artery abnormalities or extreme thickening of the heart muscle.

"Most chest pain in children is usually of a benign nature, where heart disease is an unlikely cause," says Dr. Parikh. "However, if your child has severe chest pain or chest pain associated with breathing difficulty, fever or an inappropriately rapid heart rate – it is cause for greater concern and you should consult your pediatrician or family physician for further guidance."

If you want to learn more about kid's health, visit peytonmanning.stvincent.org and sign up for your free Tip of the Day e-newsletter.

Sanjay Parikh, MD, pediatric cardiologist and medical director of the Children's Heart Center at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St.Vincent.

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