Heart conditions and examples of complementary and alternative therapies

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Learn about complementary and alternative therapy for children with heart conditions. Art therapy and aromatherapy are among the therapies discussed.

Key points

  • Alternative therapies are not widely used in heart conditions.
  • Complementary therapies may improve how your child feels by calming and re-energizing them.
  • Speak to your child's doctor before using complementary therapies in case they pose risks due to your child's condition.

Because heart conditions are tied to very specific events or structural problems in the heart, conventional medicine is generally geared toward drugs to minimize symptoms or surgery to repair the heart as much as possible. Because of this, alternative therapies are not widely used in heart conditions, though you may hear about things like acupuncture, Reiki, homeopathy, or naturopathy.

If you think you want your child to engage in an alternative therapy, speak to your child's doctor first. It is more likely that you will hear about complementary therapies. Relaxation therapy or massage, for example, may be used to relieve symptoms or improve a patient's overall sense of well-being.

Examples of complementary therapies sometimes used in paediatric cardiology

The following complementary therapies are not known to cause harm. In some cases, they may help improve how children feel, mainly by calming and re-energizing them. Again, if you wish to have your child use one of them, speak to your doctor first in case there are any risks involved, given your child's particular condition. These therapies are not necessarily available as part of hospital care.

Art therapy

This is based on the belief that the creative process involved in making art helps in the healing process. In North America, a Master's degree is required to be an art therapist.


This involves the use of scents, either on the skin or inhaled, to relieve pain, reduce anxiety, and promote relaxation.

Healing touch/therapeutic touch

This involves moving the hands over the body, or lightly touching the body. Healing touch is said to promote relaxation, relieve pain, and support the body's ability to heal. It is generally practised by nurses with special training.

Humour/laughter therapy

Some hospitals have both formal and informal programs to encourage patients to laugh. Laughing is associated with the release of endorphins, which are the body's natural painkillers. Laughter also makes people feel good by relieving stress, and it is said to boost immune function and lower blood pressure.

Massage therapy

This is said to promote relaxation, relieve pain, and enable participation in sports. According to the American Massage Therapy Association, increasing evidence shows that massage reduces heart rate, lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation and lymph flow, relaxes muscles, improves range of motion, and increases endorphins, enhancing medical treatment.

Music therapy

This involves using music to influence the psychological and physical wellness of a person suffering from a concern. Special certification is required.

Nutrition therapy

This involves the use of vitamins and minerals to help treat a condition or lessen symptoms. In heart conditions, you may see things like magnesium​, selenium, coenzyme Q10, and vitamin E used in conventional medicine. Some vitamins and minerals, like folic acid, have been shown to be effective in preventing birth defects, including heart defects. The use of any of these should be done under a doctor's supervision. Even too much of a certain vitamin could have harmful effects.

Play therapy

This uses play to help children express themselves and their emotions, when doing so in words is challenging. Trained play therapists encourage children to "play out" real-life situations in order to give them a feeling of control.


This activity focuses on breathing and flexibility, which help reduce stress and boost fitness.

Last updated: December 11th 2009