Understanding your child's heart condition diagnosis

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Learn about diagnosis of heart conditions in children. Patient histories, physical examinations, and the speed of the diagnosis itself are discussed.

Key points

  • A cardiologist makes a diagnosis by taking your child's medical history, conducting a physical examination, and sometimes ordering diagnostic tests or referring your child to other health care professionals.
  • It will not necessarily be possible for a doctor to diagnose your child right away.

Making a diagnosis involves identifying a condition or disease based on signs and symptoms. The diagnosis itself is the actual term for the condition or disease. In this section, you will learn about different heart conditions, as well as diagnostic tests and procedures. You will also find information to help you, your child, and your family get through this process.

How does the cardiologist make the diagnosis?

The cardiologist will make a diagnosis by gathering as much information as possible. They will begin by taking your child's medical history and by doing a physical examination. They may then order a number of diagnostic tests and perhaps have your child see other members of the health care team. The results from these tests, and sometimes the input from other medical colleagues, will help them determine what is wrong with your child and what should be done to treat the condition.

What is a patient history?

The doctor begins an evaluation by taking the patient’s history. The doctor will ask you about your child’s medical history and lifestyle. Lifestyle includes things like eating habits and exercise. If your child is a newborn, the doctor will ask for details about your pregnancy, since sometimes the mother's health and experiences during pregnancy are connected with a child's heart condition. They will ask how well and how often your child is feeding.

If your child is older, the doctor will ask about how active the child is and about the child's growth. If the patient is a teen, the doctor will ask about the symptom(s) that prompted the visit and past medical experiences and hospitalizations. The doctor will also ask about other aspects of your teen's life, like how well they are doing at school and whether they are having trouble keeping up. The doctor may ask parents to leave the room during some questions when talking to older teens.

The doctor will also ask about any siblings or other relatives who may have had a heart condition.

What is a physical examination?

A physical examination is done by the doctor or nurse practitioner. It is a way of checking for any problems with the body. As part of the examination, the doctor looks carefully at the body, feels different parts of the body, and listens to parts of the body.

The doctor generally starts by looking at your child. They will examine your child's appearance, skin colour, general health, comfort level, and behaviour, and measure height and weight. The doctor will record your child’s vital signs. These include things like pulse rate, breathing rate, body temperature (using a thermometer), and blood pressure (using a blood pressure cuff).

The doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to your child’s heart for heart murmurs with your child sitting up and lying down. They will feel the abdomen to check your child's internal organs (liver, spleen, kidneys) to see if there is any swelling. What the doctor checks depends on the age of the child.

What are diagnostic tests?

Diagnostic tests are tests ordered by a doctor to help figure out the cause and type of any problem. For some of these tests, your child will need to be sedated or anaesthetized. You will be told about the test before your child has it, along with certain things you will need to help prepare your child for the test. Diagnostic tests are discussed in detail in this section.

Will a diagnosis be made right away?

Sometimes a diagnosis is made right away, but sometimes it takes a while to figure out what is wrong. Sometimes children don't show signs of a problem until they are older, and you will be asked to return for more tests when your child is older.

Last updated: December 4th 2009