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Detecting congenital heart defects in children

Congenital heart defects are a common birth defect for babies born in Oregon and across the United States. Typically, severe defects are diagnosed during pregnancy or shortly after a baby is born. However, less severe defects may not be diagnosed until a child is older.

Children with congenital heart defects are usually treated by pediatric cardiologists and cardiac surgeons. To diagnose a heart defect, these specialists listen to a child's heart with a stethoscope and look for physical signs of the condition, which may include a bluish tint to the skin, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, delayed growth or heart failure.

Children suspected of having a congenital heart defect will also be put through a series of tests to confirm the diagnosis. One such test is called an echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to produce live images of the heart as it beats. This test allows the doctor to see any problems with the way the heart is formed or the way it is functioning, and it can be performed while a baby is still in the womb. The doctor may also order an electrocardiogram, which records the heart's electrical activity, speed and rhythm. Other common diagnostic tests include chest X-rays, cardiac catheterization and pulse oximetry.

A doctor's failure to diagnose a congenital heart defect can have life-threatening consequences. When a child suffers harm due to misdiagnosis or other medical errors, his or her parents have the right to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the negligent physician seeking compensation. Possible damages paid in a medical malpractice suit include medical expenses and pain and suffering. An attorney could assess a case and recommend the best course of legal action.

Source: NIH, "How Are Congenital Heart Defects Diagnosed?," March 3, 2017

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