For more than two decades, Gautam Singh, M.D., MRCP, FACC, FASE has improved the lives of children with heart disease. Today, as the new chief of cardiology at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, he’s continuing his mission to help children with cardiac conditions thrive.
Each year, 1 out of 100 infants is born with a heart defect in the United States, according to the March of Dimes. While it’s scary for parents, the team at Children’s Hospital of Michigan is dedicated to helping the youngest patients and their families through a comprehensive family-centered approach – one that can begin even before a child is born, thanks to a specialized fetal cardiology service.
“We routinely see pregnant moms when a possible issue with the baby’s heart is detected and, if there is a suspicion of heart condition, we can make a fetal cardiac diagnosis,” Dr. Singh says. “So we can make a diagnosis of a heart condition at 21 weeks of gestation – or even earlier – we can then prepare the family and have an entire team to take care of that child.”
Heart defects in children fall into three categories, he says, which include cyanotic heart defect that occurs when the blood flowing to the lungs is restricted; an acyanotic heart defect, which is most commonly a hole in the partition between the left and right side of the heart; or a combination of both.
Here, Dr. Singh breaks down the signs of cardiac conditions in kids and when it’s time to schedule an appointment with a pediatric cardiologist.
What to watch for in infants
From the infant who is breathing more rapidly than normal to the child who is struggling to keep up with his friends on the basketball court – these are just some ways that cardiac issues present themselves in children.
They vary by age, Dr. Singh says, who first offers a closer look at babies.
“If the child is an infant, quite often feeding difficulty would be one (symptom); taking a longer time to feed or not being able to finish feeding,” he says. “And because they are not feeding very well, they don’t grow very well, so weight gain is affected.”
Breathing fast – more than 60 times per minute versus the usual 30 to 40 times – is another concern, in addition to excessive sweating, which could be a sign of heart failure.
Newborns may have blueness of the lips and the face. “What we call blueness of the lips of the tongue is called cyanosis, and that’s a sign that the child may have heart disease.”
Signs and symptoms in older kids
With older kids, symptoms will present differently. Most of the time, children with heart issues aren’t able to keep up with their peers in physical activity, get easily tired and wind up breathless.
“If the child passes out during exercise or during a sport, or soon after, that is a serious situation, we certainly have to rule out if there is any cardiac condition,” Dr. Singh says.
Seek urgent or immediate medical attention if your child faints during or soon after exercise.
If there is a family history of sudden cardiac death, which is a sudden death of someone who is younger than 40 years old, then the child should be evaluated, as well.
For more information on Children’s Hospital of Michigan, or to schedule an appointment with a pediatric cardiologist, visit childrensdmc.org.