Pediatric cardiologists are heart doctors who work with children. Their practice is different from that of heart doctors who treat adults. Pediatric cardiologists primarily treat problems with a child’s heart's structure or rhythm.
A pediatric cardiologist will work with your child's regular pediatrician or another primary care provider. Pediatric cardiologists don’t do surgery. If your child needs an operation, you’ll need to see a children's heart surgeon.
What Does a Pediatric Cardiologist Do?
Pediatric cardiologists look for heart issues using tools such as echocardiogram, electrocardiogram, and imaging tests. They look for problems in the heart's formation or in the way it beats. Children may see a pediatric cardiologist if they have issues such as chest pain, dizziness, or fainting, and the doctor rules out heart issues.
Pediatric cardiologists treat children with both congenital (present from birth) and acquired heart problems. Like other pediatricians, they normally see children until the age of 18 or sometimes 21. Some may see older patients who are living with heart defects. Recent developments in cardiology have allowed more people with childhood heart problems to reach adulthood. Many need to have regular medical monitoring and medical possibly more surgery as adults. Some pediatric cardiologists specialize in treating adults living with congenital heart problems.
Depending on the need, pediatric cardiologists can give inpatient or outpatient care. Rather than see patients, some work in research or go into medical education.
Education and Training
Those who want to be pediatric cardiologists must have a four-year undergraduate degree. Then they must also have:
- Four years of medical school
- Three years of pediatric residency
- Board certification by the American Board of Pediatrics
- Three or more years of training in the subspecialty of pediatric cardiology
Pediatric cardiologists may spend the last year or two of their training focusing on a particular skill, such as heart catheterization, heart transplants, or care of children in the cardiac ICU.
Reasons to See a Pediatric Cardiologist
Reasons why your child might need to see a pediatric cardiologist include:
Critical Congenital Heart Defects
Around 40,000 American children are born each year with a congenital heart defect (CHD). About a quarter of CHDs are serious. Often a baby with a CHD needs surgery in the first year of life. Doctors diagnose some heart problems when the baby is still in the womb, usually using a technique called fetal echocardiogram. Other cardiac issues aren't diagnosed until after a baby is born, sometimes later.
Other Congenital Heart Defects
Some CHDs aren’t considered critical. For example, small atrial and ventricular septal defects, commonly known as hole-in-the-heart defects, may never cause problems and may close up on their own. Larger ones are more likely to need surgery.
Genetic Conditions with Cardiac Involvement
Several genetic syndromes typically include heart problems. Among these are Down syndrome, Marfan syndrome, Turner syndrome, and Williams syndrome. Children with these syndromes are likely to need a pediatric cardiologist.
Arrhythmias are disorders of the electrical system that makes the heart beat. They involve a heartbeat that is too fast, too slow, or irregular. Some arrhythmias, like premature contractions, are common and usually not serious. Others can be serious and may need treatments including medication or an implanted device such as a pacemaker.
What to Expect at the Pediatric Cardiologist
Every situation is unique. Your child’s visits will depend on their specific condition and situation. But a routine visit might go like this:
Your child may have some tests before you see the doctor. These may include electrocardiogram, echocardiogram or chest X-rays. The doctor will look at your child's test results. During the visit. they’ll ask questions, and perform a physical examination. The doctor will let you know if they think your child needs further tests. They may prescribe or adjust medications and tell you when you may need a follow-up visit. In some cases, the doctor may refer you to a children's heart surgeon or to another specialist.