Enlarged Heart in Babies – Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

Enlarged Heart in Babies - Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

An enlarged heart can be an alarming condition, and it is best if treated at the earliest. Also known as cardiomegaly, this is, in fact, a sign of an underlying condition, and not a disease by itself. Enlarged hearts in babies can be permanent or temporary, depending on the cause or nature of the condition. The way to deal with this is by detecting it at the earliest, understanding the nature and severity of the condition, and getting your little one treated by a specialist.

What are the Causes of Enlarged Heart in Infants?

Here are a few common causes of an enlarged heart in a newborn baby:

1. Over or Hyperactive Babies

When there is a lot of movement, and the body is overly active, it causes the heart to work over time, as the body requires more oxygen and blood to be pumped. In some cases, if your baby is extremely overactive, then it might eventually lead to mild cases of an enlarged heart. However, this causal factor is usually only noticed in adults, though it has not been ruled out in babies.

2. Congenital Heart Defect

In some cases, the baby is just born with a heart defect. There are various congenital heart defects. Having a congenital heart defect can, in turn, be the underlying cause of an enlarged heart.

3. Hole in the Heart

A hole in the heart is a condition caused due to an abnormality in the connections between the ventricles or lower chambers of the heart. In some cases, a hole in the heart can be a causal factor of an enlarged heart in toddlers.

4. Problems in the Valve

In some cases, the valves in the heart do not open or close normally. Or sometimes, there is a leakage in the valves of the heart. Both of these conditions can cause stress on the heart, which in turn can cause it to get enlarged.

5. Problems in the Muscles in the Heart

Like valves, if there is an abnormality in the muscles of the heart as well, it can cause an enlarged heart.

6. Medication and Drugs

If the mother, during pregnancy, consumed strong medication or drugs, then this might have had an effect on the baby as well, giving rise to the condition of an enlarged heart.

7. Fluid Around the Heart

The pericardium is a membrane that encloses the heart. Sometimes, the sac in this membrane might have excess fluid, which in turn can lead to an enlarged heart.

The signs of an enlarged heart in a child can include shortness of breath, abnormal heart rhythm or a heart murmur, and swelling. In some cases, the child’s skin might have a bluish tint as well. Other symptoms include chest pain, fainting, and discomfort in the upper body, jaw, and neck. If your baby appears to be severely uncomfortable or in pain, make sure you check with a doctor.

How Doctors Diagnose Enlarged Heart in Babies?

An echocardiogram is one avenue to diagnose an enlarged heart. This is an ultrasound that measures the muscle thickness, pumping function, and sometimes, the causes of an enlarged heart.

Diagnosing enlarged heart

Another way to diagnose an enlarged heart is a physical exam. This, however, can be administered only if there are physical symptoms like swelling and a bluish tint on the skin. Chest X-rays or dilated cardiomyopathy help identify the size of the heart as well, but this is not as effective as an echocardiogram. Another test is cardiac catheterization, that looks for any blockage that might be present in the coronary arteries. While at it, cardiac catheterization can check for changes in the size of the heart as well as any abnormality in the pumping function of the heart. In certain situations, Computed Tomography (CT) scans and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans can help with the diagnosis of an enlarged heart. In extremely rare cases, doctors might conduct a biopsy, where a small piece of tissue from the heart is checked.

What is the Survival Rate of Babies With an Enlarged Heart?

The survival rate of babies with an enlarged heart depends heavily on how soon it has been diagnosed, the severity of the condition, and the kind of treatment that has been administered. Research suggests that 95% of babies that are born with a non-critical congenital enlarged heart will survive till around 18 years of age. And, 69% of babies with a critical congenital enlarged heart will survive till 18 years of age.

Source of research – https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/heartdefects/data.html

Enlarged Heart in Babies – Treatment

The treatment administered to a baby with an enlarged heart depends on what his condition is. Here are a few types of treatment:

  1. Controlling blood pressure can help bring relief by easing the flow of blood.
  2. In some cases, surgery will have to be done to treat an enlarged heart, if the underlying cause is an issue relating to the valves.
  3. Doctors in some cases administer diuretics. This can help ease out any swelling. Also known as water pills, diuretics help increase the amount of water that is expelled from the body, through urine.

Treatment for an enlarged heart in babies

An issue with the heart will have to be taken care of right at the start, to prevent any life-threatening situations. Make sure you consult your baby’s paediatrician or doctor at the first signs of any abnormality. Do not panic. As a parent, you are bound to get upset, but always remember that early detection can work positively in the favour of your little one. Make sure you keep a tab on your child’s diet, as this can greatly impact the function of the heart. Avoid foods that are fatty as this can further clog the arteries in the heart.

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