Types of heart conditions

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Learn about the types of heart conditions that arise in children. Congenital heart defects and heart rhythm problems are among the conditions discussed.

Key points

  • Congenital heart defects are parts of the heart that do not form properly.
  • Cardiomyopathy typically results in heart failure.
  • Heart infections (infective endocarditis) is caused by germs that stay in the heart.
  • Several syndromes are commonly associated heart defects.
  • Your child could also be diagnosed with other heart conditions include heart arrhythmias, inflammatory heart disease.

Heart conditions can range from the simple to the complex. Some are congenital (present at birth). Others are acquired, meaning they develop over time, usually later in life. This site mainly discusses congenital heart conditions.

Congenital heart defects

Congenital heart defects are parts of the heart that do not form properly. There are about 35 known types of congenital heart defect. They include “holes” in parts of the heart and missing or malformed parts of the heart. Congenital heart defects occur very early in a pregnancy, often even before a woman knows she is pregnant.

For more information, please read Diagnosis of Congenital Heart Defects.


Cardiomyopathy is a disorder affecting the heart muscle. It usually results in the heart being unable to pump effectively, a condition known as heart failure. It can be caused by a number of factors, including infections, conditions affecting the body’s metabolism, and genetics.

For more information, please read Diagnosis of Cardiomyopathy.

Heart infections

Infective endocarditis is a serious infection of the heart caused by germs that get into the blood and stay in the heart. If blood does not flow through a child’s heart or valves smoothly because of heart problems, the child is more likely to get infective endocarditis. It is more likely to occur in children with certain types of congenital heart defect.

For more information, please read Diagnosis of Infective Endocarditis.

Heart-related syndromes

A syndrome is a medical term for a collection of signs and symptoms that generally stem from a single genetic cause. A number of syndromes are associated with heart defects, including 22q11 deletion syndrome, Down syndrome, Marfan syndrome, Noonan syndrome, Turner syndrome, and Williams syndrome.

For more information, please read Diagnosis of Heart-Related Syndromes.

Other types of heart conditions

Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias)

Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias) refer to an abnormal heartbeat. Arrhythmias can occur at any age and may or may not have symptoms. The heart rate can be fast, slow, or irregular.

An arrhythmia can be short-lived (acute) and resolve on its own, or long-lasting (chronic) requiring treatment. Arrhythmias can develop on their own or because of another condition, surgery, or another factor. They can be a symptom of a heart abnormality, but they can also occur in structurally healthy hearts. Some arrhythmias may have a genetic component.

Inflammatory heart diseases

An inflammatory heart disease is a condition caused by a reaction to an external factor, like an infection caused by bacteria or a virus, or an internal factor. Some inflammatory conditions occur when a child's immune system mistakenly considers the child's body to be foreign. Inflammatory heart disease can occur in conditions such as rheumatic fever and Kawasaki disease. In some cases, inflammation can lead to scarring, cardiomyopathy, or arrhythmias.

Inflammatory heart diseases include myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining of the heart).

Pulmonary hypertension

Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the pulmonary artery, which connects the right side of the heart to the lungs. High blood pressure is normal at the time of birth, but it lowers over the next few hours or days. When it does not go away, it is called persistent pulmonary hypertension. Pulmonary hypertension can also occur as a result of congenital heart disease, infection, lung disease, prematurity, or birth complications.

Pulmonary hypertension makes the right side of the heart get bigger, because it is working harder to pump the blood. It can eventually lead to heart failure or abnormal heart rhythms.

Hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol)

Hyperlipidemia means high cholesterol levels in the blood. Cholesterol is a waxy material found in the blood and the body’s cells. We get cholesterol from our bodies, which produce it naturally, and from the food we eat. Cholesterol is an important substance, since it helps to make cell membranes, some hormones, and other body tissues. But too much cholesterol in the blood is bad for the body.

Hyperlipidemia in children is different from the high cholesterol that adults have. It is also referred to as familial hyperlipidemia because it is passed from parent to child. In a very few cases, given the increasing trend toward obesity among children, it is possible to see cases of hyperlipidemia caused by poor diet. Hyperlipidemia can also be caused in some cases by drugs given to treat non-cardiac conditions.

Heart tumours

A heart tumour either starts growing in the heart (primary tumour) or spreads (metastasizes) to the heart from another part of the body (secondary tumour). Heart tumours can occur inside the heart, in the muscle of the heart, or in the outside wall of the heart. They are very rare. In children, secondary tumours are more common than primary tumours.

Last updated: January 15th 2010