H is for Healthy Heart

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 @ 12:02 PM
posted by admin


To all my readers happy Valentine’s month! This is the month of celebrating friendship and love.  Since we celebrate with delicious chocolate, plenty of candy and pink and red hearts, I am dedicating this blog to the heart.  Kids’ hearts that is!

The heart is an amazing muscle which pumps approximately 1.3 gallons per minute or 1872 gallons of blood in 24 hours!  The heart starts beating at approximately the 6th week of gestation.  For the pregnant mommies who want to ensure a healthy cardiovascular start for the baby, make sure you are eating a good healthy diet especially rich in folic acid and take your prenatal vitamins as recommended.  All the major organs are formed by the first trimester. Always check with your doctor if taking any medications as some medications can cause birth defects and affect the development of the cardiovascular system which includes heart and vessels.  If there is a family history of heart defects or unusual heart rhythms especially in first degree relatives like siblings or parents you need to tell your obstetrician as soon as possible.  Usually a specialist called a perinatologist can do a very advance level 2 ultrasound which may be able to detect major heart structural abnormalities.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is now recommending heart screening for all newborns by doing a very simple test called pulse oxymetry.  This consists in putting a small probe on the baby’s finger and matching the heart rate with oxygenation at room air.  If there are any discrepancies further testing will be ordered.  Since this is just a recommendation most hospitals are just starting to adopt it as a policy in most newborn nurseries.  You can ask your pediatrician and request this very simple test.

Heart murmurs are a very common finding in perfectly healthy newborns and children.  If any heart murmur is detected at birth it needs to be followed by the pediatrician who then will refer to the pediatric cardiologist or may order an ultrasound of the heart.  A heart murmur is the sound of blood going through the different structures of the heart.  If there is a structural abnormality the sound deviates from the usual sound that we appreciate with the stethoscope.  In newborns and older children the majority of the murmurs are innocent but they always need to be investigated.  If an infant is not gaining appropriate weight or he/she is having major difficulties feeding always asks your doctor as this can be a sign of heart trouble.

In school age children and adolescents signs and symptoms of heart disease are exercise intolerance, with extreme fatigue, weakness, almost passing out with or without exercise and syncope.  Abnormal heart beats very rapid, skip beats or irregular heartbeats should always be investigated with the pediatrician and even may require a cardiology referral.  For athletes with any of these symptoms competitive sports should be put on hold until cleared by a cardiologist and although not a universal requirement I would even recommend a screening EKG for any child playing competitive sports at the varsity level in high school and planning to play in college.  Chest pain very rarely is related to heart problems more commonly maybe a sign of respiratory or musculoskeletal issues.

Childhood obesity increases the risk for early cardiovascular disease.  We are starting to see many obese children with high cholesterol, high triglycerides, high blood pressure and diabetes. 

For a healthy heart a well balanced diet, consisting of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, grains and legumes is essential.  Avoid processed sugars, foods that come prepackaged with high levels of sodium, and preservatives, juices that are bottled or come in boxes, and sodas.  A good diet, daily exercise and a good dose of laughter are the secrets for a healthy heart.

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