Today, in India, the rate of heart problems among children under 18 years of age, are not very common but are steeply rising. This is alarming and needs to be dedicated, world-class care. These problems could be due to multiple reasons such as genetics, birth defects, unhealthy lifestyle, improper growth, smoking and alcohol consumption during pregnancy by the mother or more. Mostly, heart problems in children develop while they are in the uterus and other cases could also be caused by certain illness during childhood. Cardiac ailments in children can take several forms and need expert medical attention – medications, surgery, post-follow-ups, etc. Paediatric cardiologyis the field which is dedicated to providing holistic treatment for children of all ages; it encompasses comprehensive care for patients – from pregnancy, through infancy, childhood, teenage years and later – that have congenital or acquired heart problem.
Children are very different from adults and one such area of the vast difference in the cardiac space. The cardiac problems of children vary immensely than those of normal adults; hence, children their care needs to be more specialized and attentive. Many children suffering from heart problems do not show any symptoms and may appear healthy, hence, oftentimes such problems also tend to get ignored until later when they become extremely critical. Paediatric cardiology is a branch of general cardiology that exclusively focuses on children, infants and unborn children with various cardiac problems, and involves diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cardiac defects and problems in them.
One should visit a paediatric cardiologist if the child tends to show any of the below symptoms such as:
- Blue lips and skin
- Difficulty in feeding (sweating, breathlessness, etc.)
- Shortness of breath
- Poor growth
- Pale skin
- Weak immunity
- Heart murmur
- Lack of physical activeness
- Chest pain
The symptoms indicate that the heart is not functioning properly and needs medical attention. That said, paediatric cardiologists are doctors who have expertise in diagnosing and treating children with heart conditions. These paediatric cardiologists’ work closely with cardiothoracic surgeons, paediatricians focussed on other specialities, and expert nurses and staff to provide high quality, patient-centric and family-oriented care for children. A paediatric cardiologist can treat several conditions for patients such as:
- Infancy cardiovascular collapse
- Cardiac failure
- Newborn cyanosis
- Heart murmurs
- Chest pain, palpitations
- Fatigue and fainting
- Congenital heart problem
- Cardiovascular defects
- Cardiac abnormalities
- Heart transplant
- Aortic valve stenosis
- Arterial trunk
- Atrial septal defect (ASD)
Paediatric cardiology entails learning general paediatrics to ensure all-round care of the growing and developing individual. It involves the treatment of congenital heart defects, irregular heartbeat and rhythm, as well as circulatory function problems. Additionally, Paediatric cardiology involves extensive training and skill in handling and treating children, in the best possible manner.
Paediatric cardiology also involves performing several tests to detect heart problems. These tests are simple, non-invasive, and quick including chest X-ray, ECG, ultrasound scan, etc. The treatment of a child suffering from a heart ailment depends on the type of heart problem and the severity of the case. Most heart defects tend to resolve over time with specialized care offered by paediatric cardiology; the other heart problems are treated by medications and while some may also require surgical intervention. Thus, it is very important to take proper paediatric cardiology consultation and evaluate all options to ensure the child receives the best paediatric cardiology care. A healthy child is a happy child.
On the other hand, adult cardiology is a specialised branch of medicine which typically involves diagnosis and treatment of heart conditions and disorders affecting the adults. A person who treats cardiovascular diseases in adults is known as a cardiologist. An adult needs to see a cardiologist when the following symptoms occur:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Changes in heartbeat and rhythm
- High blood pressure
Some heart diseases treated by an adult cardiologist include:
- Atrial fibrillation
- Congenital heart disease
- Coronary heart disease
- Congestive heart disease
- High blood cholesterol and triglycerides
- Ventricular tachycardia
- High blood pressure, or hypertension
However, a cardiologist is always the same as a cardiac surgeon. A cardiac surgeon is the one who performs the surgery to treat the medical condition affecting the heart, and in some cases, can be different from a general cardiologist who makes the initial diagnosis.
In the case of children, the surgeon has to be specialised in treating specific heart conditions which affect the children. Such as cardiac surgeon is called a paediatric cardiac surgeon and the surgery is known as paediatric cardiac surgery.
The main difference between paediatric cardiac surgery and adult cardiac surgery is the cardiac surgeon performing the surgery and in many ways the type of surgical procedure. A paediatric cardiac surgeon has specialities in performing surgeries to treat heart conditions and diseases affecting the children and infants. On the other hand, an adult cardiac surgeon performs surgeries to treat adults and has no particular specialisation on paediatric surgery.
The procedure of a general cardiac surgery
As per the traditional method, cardiac surgery involves opening the chest by dividing the chest bone, allowing the surgeon to operate on the heart as per the patient’s condition. During this time, the heart is connected to a heart-lung machine that substitutes the heart functioning. Post a successful procedure, the heart starts beating and functioning on its own and the incision in the chest is sealed which almost takes 6-8 weeks to recover. The sternal wires used to bind the chest bones are left to dissolve eventually, staples made are removed between 7-14 days after surgery, and the glue goes off ultimately on its own. Every surgery has its risks and complications, which will be directed by the cardiac surgeon.
Overall, paediatric cardiac surgery is aimed to treat heart conditions and diseases affecting children unlike adult cardiac surgery aimed to treat the similar in patients above a certain age.