Your child's physician will perform a head-to-toe examination of your child when diagnosing or evaluating heart disease. Examining the entire body can help detect possible heart disease, or help him/her determine how well your child is coping with existing heart problems.
Some of the areas that may indicate a problem with your child's heart health include the following:
Difficult breathing can be caused by congenital heart defects. One of the problem signs that can be observed is retractions - a pulling inward of the skin between or below the ribs, or above or below the breastbone each time a child breathes.
Your child's physician will listen carefully to the front and back of your child's chest with a stethoscope. He/she will listen to the heart in several different areas of the chest for abnormal sounds such as murmurs, clicks, and irregular beats. Heart sounds can also be heard in the back. The heart rate will also be counted.
Abnormal sounds may be heard in the lungs when congenital or acquired heart disease is present. Fluid may accumulate in the lungs with some heart problems, and your child's physician will hear crackles, congestion, or other moist or "wet" sounds. Both lungs should have sounds indicating good air flow through them. Breathing sounds that are not as clear or strong in one lung as in another will need further evaluation. The breathing rate also will be counted.
Skin temperature is also helpful in evaluating heart disease. When the heart is not pumping effectively, it will not be able to pump enough blood to meet the body's demands. The body will narrow the blood vessels to nonessential areas such as the extremities in order to protect the brain and preserve blood flow. The skin becomes cool in areas where blood vessels have narrowed, usually starting in the fingers and toes first and then moving up the extremity as the situation worsens.
Examination of the nailbeds also reveals important information about the heart. Normally, the nails are a pink color. Blue or purple nails indicate insufficient amounts of oxygen in the bloodstream, or inadequate amounts of blood in the circulation. Pale nailbeds may indicate anemia (low numbers of red blood cells in the bloodstream).
Children with cyanotic congenital heart disease, which allows unoxygenated blood to flow to the body, may develop a widening of the nailbeds called clubbing.
The symptoms of heart disease may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your child's physician for more information.
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Online Resources of Cardiovascular Disorders
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