A Heartfelt Talk About Pediatric Cardiology

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.

When should a child see a pediatric cardiologist?
Sometimes children experience symptoms that are similar to those of a heart condition, including chest pain, palpitations (heart racing), fainting or diminished tolerance for exercise and activity. In some cases, these symptoms do require evaluation by a cardiologist, which would be determined by your pediatrician. Another reason to consult a pediatric cardiologist is 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.

Are there ways to help prevent heart disease in children?
The same heart health guidelines for adults also apply to children. They should eat lots of fruits, vegetables, healthy grains and low-fat dairy, and limit saturated fats, trans fats and sodium. Children should also get an hour of physical activity each day.

Heart disease runs in my family. How do I know if my child is at risk for having a heart problem?
Although some heart conditions can be inherited, most are not. Congenital heart disease occurs when children are born with their heart condition. 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.

Why a pediatric cardiologist?
Pediatric cardiologists have received extensive training in diagnosing and treating cardiac problems in patients generally 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 into young adulthood. It is important to look for a specialist who is board-certified, which indicates the physician has passed a certifying examination after completing an advanced level of training. 

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. Once all of the evaluations are completed, your child’s cardiologist will review the information with you, answer your questions and make recommendations for a follow-up plan.

What makes the Division of Pediatric Cardiology at Stony Brook the leading choice for pediatric heart care in Suffolk County?
We are the only academic pediatric cardiology practice in Suffolk County and can provide comprehensive, evidence based care to the children we care for. We also 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 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.