Childhood Heart Conditions and Treatments

The diagnostic tests your child undergoes will help the cardiologist determine whether a problem actually is present and whether it's a congenital defect or heart disease.

Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital defects are abnormalities in the formation of the heart and/or its major blood vessels. These defects are present at birth in eight of every 1,000 babies, but may go undetected for many years. Abnormalities range from simple defects, such as a small hole in the wall between two heart chambers, to more complex problems. Here is a list of common congenital heart defects:

Heart Disease

Heart disease in children can be caused by a variety of factors, including viral infections and chromosomal abnormalities. Often, heart disease develops as a complication of other diseases or medical conditions.

Treatment Options

Once your child's problem has been diagnosed, the next step is to correct it. For some children, no immediate intervention will be necessary. For others, pharmacological, interventional catheterization or surgery may be the recommended course of treatment.


  • ACE (Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme) Inhibitors — ACE inhibitors act to relax the tone of arteries throughout the body, lowering the blood pressure and reducing the workload on the heart. They are helpful in treating heart failure and high blood pressure. Commonly used drugs in this class are captopril, enalapril and lisinopril.
  • Antiarrhythmics — A group of drugs used to treat heartbeat irregularities.
  • Beta Blockers — A class of drugs used to treat various disorders associated with the circulatory system. These drugs blunt the effects of adrenaline and will slow the heart rate, relax pressure in blood vessels and decrease the force of heart contractions. They are useful to treat heart failure, high blood pressure and some heart rhythm disorders. They are also used to control migraine headaches and fainting spells. This large group includes propranolol, atenolol and metoprolol.
  • Digoxin — One of the oldest heart drugs, digoxin (a form of digitalis) makes the contraction of the heart muscle stronger and more efficient, slows the rate of the heart beat and helps remove extra fluid from body tissues. It is sometimes used to treat heart failure and certain arrhythmias. Lanoxin is a common drug in this class.
  • Diuretics — In children, diuretics are the most commonly used medication for managing mild to moderate degrees of congestive heart failure. These drugs help the body get rid of water and salt. Included in this group are furosemide (“Lasix”), bumetanide and spironolactone.

Interventional Catheterization

For many children with heart problems, surgery used to be the only treatment option. Today, minimally invasive procedures, such as interventional catheterization, are often considered the first choice in treatment and routinely performed instead of surgery. Interventional catheterization can provide a permanent solution for some conditions or a short-term solution for children who will need surgery later on.

Diagnostic vs. Interventional Catheterization

What’s the difference? In terms of what your child will experience, and how you’ll prepare for the procedure, there’s very little, if any, difference between diagnostic and interventional catheterization. In both procedures, thin, flexible catheters are inserted into a vein or artery in the groin area and guided to the heart.

Balloon catheters and stents can be used to open narrowed valves or arteries. There are also coils and special devices introduced through the catheter, used to plug up unwanted blood vessels and holes in the wall between heart chambers.

Types Of Heart Problems Solved

Common congenital and acquired heart problems that can sometimes be treated by interventional catheterization include:

  • Abnormal Collateral Vessels
  • Atrial Septal Defect (ASD)
  • Aortic Stenosis
  • Coarctation of the Aorta (CoA)
  • Coronary Artery Fistula
  • Fontan Fenestration
  • Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA)
  • Peripheral Pulmonic Stenosis
  • Pulmonary ArterioVenous Malformation (AVM)
  • Pulmonary Stenosis
  • Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD)

Heart Surgery

For some heart diseases and abnormalities, the best course of treatment is surgery. Heart surgery procedures are generally classified as closed-heart or open-heart. Pacemaker implantation is also considered a minor surgical procedure.