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Heart Screening for Children

  • Prenatal Screening for Pregnant Women

    Prenatal heart screening is a form of heart screening for the unborn fetus in-utero (in the womb). It is used to check for congential heart conditions before birth, so that parents can be prepared for the situation and the heart specialists can determine the best course of treatment after birth.

    A prenatal echocardiogram, for example, can be used to find structural defects in the baby’s heart. This is an ultrasound test that produces images of the heart structure, and can be used to diagnose congenital heart diseases like atrial septal defectventricular septal defect and tetralogy of Fallot.

    Prenatal heart screening is a precautionary test that may not be conclusive, as the small size of the baby’s heart means that finding the extent of the defect can be difficult. Prenatal heart screening is usually more conclusive for severe congenital problems like tetralogy of Fallot. In many situations, small congenital defects may fix itself closer to birth or even after birth, so it is best for parents not to worry too much when directed to a prenatal heart screening.

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    The following situations may make it more likely for the gynaecologist to recommend prenatal heart screening:

    • Parents who were born with a congenital heart disease, or parents who have previously given birth to a child with congenital heart disease
    • Parents who have diabetes
    • Mothers who abuse drugs or alcohol during pregnancy
    • Mothers who take medication (eg. epilepsy medicine) that can possibly result in heart defects
    • Abnormalities in the baby’s heartbeat found during routine ultrasound tests for the mother
  • Heart Screening for Infants

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    Heart screening for infants is usually done if abnormalities were found during prenatal screening, or if the infant shows signs of the following symptoms:

    • Difficulty breathing
    • Difficulty feeding
    • Poor weight gain
    • Bluish lips and nail beds at birth
    • Bluish skin, especially when crying and feeding
    • Abnormalities found during physical examination

    Congenital heart diseases like atrial septal defectventricular septal defect or tetralogy of Fallot can result in heart murmur. This is described as a ‘whooshing’ or ‘wheezing’ sound heard when listening to the heart with a stethoscope. An echocardiogram can be done on infants when the doctor suspects a congenital heart disease. An electrocardiogram (ECG), where electrodes are attached to the area around the heart, can also be used to monitor the heart rate and rhythm of the infant.

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