Heart and Blood Conditions

Heart Failure

What Is Heart Failure?

Heart failure means the heart is not working properly. It does not mean that the heart has stopped beating, but that the heart is not working as well as it should.

Heart failure is a serious health problem, and it requires treatment. If your child has heart failure, treatment may be medicines, surgery or a combination of the two. For many types of heart failure, this standard therapy can help a child's heart work adequately.

If standard therapies don't work well enough, some children may need to have their diseased hearts replaced with a healthy heart from a deceased donor - a heart transplant.

Heart Failure in Children

Heart failure can occur at any age and for many reasons. For newborns, babies, children and teen-agers, there are two main categories of heart failure:

  • Problems with the structures of the heart
  • Problems with the heart muscle

Children may be born with these problems (congenital), or they may develop them later in life.

Structural problems

The main types of structural problems leading to heart failure are:

  • Problems with the structures inside the heart. Holes between the right and left chambers of the heart can cause blood to circulate improperly between the heart and the lungs.
  • Problems with the structures outside the heart. Abnormal blood vessels can cause blood to flow improperly between the heart and the rest of the body.
  • Problems with heart valves. Heart valves that do not close properly can cause blood to leak backward.
  • Other structural problems can block blood flow, forcing the heart to work too hard.
  • Low blood iron (anemia). Severe anemia can cause the heart to work too hard over time.
  • Strep throat infection. The infection can damage heart valves and cause them to leak. This is a rare cause of overcirculation failure.

Heart muscle problems

When the heart muscle does not squeeze (contract) normally, the heart has to work harder to move blood around the body, and the body does not get as much blood as it needs. Problems with the heart muscle have many potential causes.

  • An inherited (genetic) problem with the heart muscle can cause it to work improperly. The heart muscle defect may be the only problem your child has, or it may be one of several problems that make up what doctors call a syndrome.
  • A virus infection can damage otherwise normal heart muscle.
  • Problems with the coronary arteries that are either present at birth or develop as a result of inflammation can prevent blood flow to the heart muscle.
  • Certain medicines , including some that treat problems like cancer or leukemia, can damage the heart muscle.
  • The heart's electrical system can be faulty, causing the heart to beat too slow or too fast.
  • Children with muscular dystrophy may develop problems with their heart muscles.
  • Severe chest injuries (trauma) may damage the heart, although this is not a common cause of heart failure.

Learn more about heart failure in children and adolescents and diseases that can cause heart failure .

Heart Failure at Seattle Children's

Seattle Children's Heart Transplant Program was established in 1994. We perform five to 10 heart transplants every year in babies, children, teens and young adults through age 21. We are committed to providing compassionate, innovative care and achieving excellent results.

Seattle Children's is one of the leading heart centers for children in the United States. We have the medical and surgical expertise and technology to handle the most complex cases of heart failure. Our transplant program is the only one in the Pacific Northwest to successfully perform many advanced heart failure treatment procedures in children.

We have state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, and some of the best heart technicians in the country. Our team includes experts in caring for the very youngest patients - newborns and very young infants with heart failure.

Our certified pediatric-trained heart surgeons, Drs. Jonathan ChenMichael McMullan and Lester Permut , operate together, a unique practice among surgeons. We are dedicated to a practice that reduces human error and increases good results for your child.

Our team also is active in research to advance knowledge about heart failure and transplantation. We are constantly improving surgery so we can provide the most current treatments and the very best care for your child.