Heart Failure in Children

What is heart failure?

Heart failure occurs when the heart is not working to pump blood as well as it should, and gets backed up (congested) in the blood vessels. It is also called congestive heart failure. Many people think that heart failure affects only adults, but people of all ages can have heart failure, including infants, children and teenagers.

Heart failure in children is often caused by a congenital heart defect the child is born with. In some cases, children can also develop heart failure due to infection or another medical condition.

If your child has heart failure, it may affect either side of the heart.

When heart failure affects the left side of the heart, the heart has a hard time pumping blood out to the body. This causes blood to back up into the vessels in the lungs, and the lungs become congested.

When heart failure affects the right side of the heart, it has a hard time pumping blood to the lungs. This causes blood to back up in the child’s liver and veins, which can cause fluid retention in the body.

What are the symptoms of heart failure?

Symptoms of heart failure may include:

  • fast breathing
  • shortness of breath or heavy breathing
  • feeling more tired than usual
  • needing to take frequent rest breaks while playing with friends
  • falling asleep when feeding or becoming too tired to eat
  • lack of appetite
  • poor growth
  • swelling of the legs, ankles, eyelids, face or abdomen
  • nausea or vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • cough or lung congestion
  • sweating

What are the causes of heart failure?

Heart failure can happen in children born with congenital heart defects.

Other conditions that may cause heart failure include:

How we care for heart failure

The Benderson Family Heart Center at Boston Children's Hospital is the largest pediatric heart program in the United States. We provide a full range of care for heart failure, from diagnostic assessment to interventional therapy using cardiac catheterization and cardiac surgery.

Our staff includes more than 80 pediatric heart specialists who provide care for thousands of children with heart conditions each year, ranging from the simple to complex.