Diagnosing and Treating Children with Heart Disease

Ask the Experts

panesar1 Laurie E. Panesar, MD
Chief, Division of Pediatric Cardiology
Stony Brook Children’s Hospital
heyden1 Kathleen Walsh-Spoonhower, MD
Director, Fetal Heart Program 
Stony Brook Children’s Hospital
It can be frightening and confusing for parents to hear their child may have a heart problem. Fortunately, Long Island is home to one of New York’s most renowned academic medical centers and the only children’s hospital in Suffolk County. Pediatric cardiologists at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital answer your questions about childhood heart disease.

Should I take my child to a cardiologist before he/she participates in sports?
Children do not routinely need to see a pediatric cardiologist before participating in sports. Often a routine physical with the family physician is all that is required. However, if your child’s pediatrician has any concerns about the exam (a new murmur or high blood pressure) or your child has new complaints (chest pain or fainting with exercise) or if there are concerns about the family’s history of heart problems, then your child should be seen by a pediatric cardiologist for further evaluation.

If my child has chest pain or symptoms of heart problems, does he/she need to see a pediatric cardiologist?
For wide variety of reasons, children can experience symptoms that are similar to those of a heart condition, including chest pain, palpitations (heart racing), syncope (fainting) or diminished tolerance for exercise and activity. Sometimes, these complaints do require evaluation by a cardiologist. Other reasons to consult a pediatric cardiologist are a family history of heart disease in children or young adults, including a relative passing away at a young age from a suspected heart problem.

Heart disease runs in my family. How do I know if my child is at risk for having a heart problem?
We are beginning to understand much more about the connection between genetics and heart disease. Although some heart conditions can be inherited, most are not. Congenital heart disease occurs when children are born with their heart condition. Often we do not know why their hearts didn’t develop normally during pregnancy. Children can also acquire heart conditions later in life due to other illnesses, such as a viral illness that affects the heart, or heart disease that develops after birth, such as a cardiomyopathy. If heart disease runs in your family and you are unsure if your child should see a pediatric cardiologist, you can ask your child’s pediatrician or make an appointment to have your child evaluated by a cardiologist.

If my child needs a pediatric cardiologist, what should I look for?
A pediatric cardiologist is a pediatrician who has received extensive training in diagnosing and treating children’s cardiac problems. They generally treat patients younger than 18 years old. Stony Brook Children’s is the only medical center in Suffolk County that offers comprehensive cardiac care for children from before birth through school age and into young adulthood. When selecting a pediatric cardiologist, it is important to look for a board-certified specialist, indicating the physician has passed a certifying examination after completing an advanced level of training. High-quality diagnostic technology and interpretation is also important. We use electrocardiograms, echocardiograms, Holter monitors and exercise stress tests to evaluate our pediatric patients.

What should I expect to happen at my child’s pediatric cardiology visit?
A typical evaluation at Stony Brook Children’s includes a comprehensive cardiovascular examination and an electrocardiogram to evaluate the heart rhythm. Depending on the clinical concern, an echocardiogram, or a heart ultrasound, may be performed to evaluate the heart structure and function. If needed, the echocardiogram is performed at the time of your child’s visit. Once all of the evaluations are completed, your child’s cardiologist will review the information with you, answer your questions and make recommendations about a follow-up plan.

What makes the Division of Pediatric Cardiology at Stony Brook the leading choice for pediatric heart care in Suffolk County?
Our Division is the only academic pediatric cardiology practice in Suffolk County and can provide comprehensive, evidence-based care to the children we care for. In addition to providing high-quality care, we provide an environment that feels safe and reassuring to the child and their family. Even if a child has a complex heart problem, our team always strives to work together with the family, the pediatrician and other pediatric subspecialists to ensure that the whole child is cared for, not just their heart.

For more information or to make an appointment, call (631) 444-KIDS (5437). stonybrookchildrens.org

All health and health-related information contained in this article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance, and treatment. The information is intended to offer only general information for individuals to discuss with their healthcare provider. It is not intended to constitute a medical diagnosis or treatment or endorsement of any particular test, treatment, procedure, service, etc. Reliance on information provided is at the user's risk. Your healthcare provider should be consulted regarding matters concerning the medical condition, treatment, and needs of you and your family. Stony Brook University/SUNY is an affirmative action, equal opportunity educator and employer.