When to See a Pediatric Cardiologist

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This article is sponsored by MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center.

Doctor listening to small boy's heart. Pediatric Cardiology DSM. Des Moines MomThe heart is one of the most important organs– pumping blood and oxygen throughout your body. Sometimes abnormalities form while the baby is still in utero that can cause congenital (present at birth) heart disease. Other times a child may experience irregular heartbeat or disturbances in the heart. A pediatric cardiologist helps your child’s heart to be healthy and strong. But hearing your child should see a cardiologist can seem intimidating.

Here’s what to know about pediatric cardiology and what to expect if you need to visit one.

What is pediatric cardiology?

Pediatric cardiology is focused on diseases of the heart in developing individuals: babies in utero through 21-year-olds. Pediatric cardiology is different from adult cardiology. While adults may have issues with blocked coronary arteries or valve diseases, pediatric cardiology usually works with congenital heart defects or structural issues within the heart.

Why your child might see a pediatric cardiologist?

While a mother is pregnant, at the 20-week check-up a cardiac screening is done to make sure that the big structures of the heart have formed correctly. If the provider notices anything unusual, a patient is then referred to a pediatric cardiologist.

Other kids have minor heart formation defects that are noticed when they get older. Here is a list of common conditions that could lead you into our office.

Cardiac arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat. Heart rhythm issues occur when the electrical signals that make the heartbeat don’t conduct normally. The heart can feel like it’s beating too fast or too slow and the palpitations (heartbeat) are changing.

A heart murmur is usually noticed by a child’s pediatrician during a well-child exam. A heart murmur is when the heart is making extra sounds. This can be for several reasons including heart valve abnormalities, heart muscle disorders, or septal defects (hole in the upper or lower chamber of the heart). Heart murmurs are the most common reasons a child is referred to a pediatric cardiologist.

Innocent heart murmurs are common to find. These are heart murmurs that are not harmful to your child. Often patients can grow out of innocent heart murmurs or the murmurs come in go throughout the child’s life. They can also be louder at times, especially if a child has a fever.

Signs and symptoms

The heart is complex. Symptoms can vary depending on what disease or defect is affecting the heart, but there are some red flags parents should be aware of:

Infants

  • Issues gaining weight
  • Sweating during feeding
  • Unable to finish a bottle or taking longer than normal to finish

Children/Adolescents

  • Chest pain while exercising
  • Fainting while exercising or at rest

If you notice any of these signs, you should contact your child’s pediatrician or provider to schedule an appointment.

Doctor listening to kids heart. Pediatric Cardiology. Des Moines MomWhat to Expect at Your First Visit

While every appointment is individual to the patients, there are a few things you can expect at your first visit. When you and your child arrive, you’ll complete a brief medical history. After, your child will have their vital signs taken by a cardiology nurse. Then the pediatric cardiologist comes in and performs a detailed physical examination and review any test results.

For expecting mothers, an ultrasound called a fetal echocardiogram, is used to check the baby’s heart and give the cardiologist more information about how the baby’s heart is forming and what their heart will be like during and after delivery. The information collected from the echocardiogram helps decide whether the baby will need immediate attention after birth or possible medical attention as they get older.

One of the most common tests ordered is an EKG (electrocardiogram) that measures the electrical signals in the heart. EKGs give the cardiologist insight into any rhythm or structural issues. Another common test is an echocardiogram to observe the heart structure and heart function.

Having your child referred to a pediatric cardiologist can be nerve-racking. The goal is always to let every child be as safely active as they can. Your child’s heart deserves the best care.

About the author: Amanda Jepson, MD, is a pediatric cardiologist.  She completed her pediatric cardiology fellowship at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center and University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. She completed medical school at Des Moines University. Dr. Jepson returned to Des Moines in the fall of 2021 to join MercyOne. Dr. Jepson lives downtown with her husband and daughter and enjoys running, walking through the sculpture park and Gray’s Lake, and attending a variety of festivals in Des Moines.

Connect with MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center

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This article is part of a series of sponsored articles by MercyOne Des Moines Medical Center

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