Our Approach to Diagnosing Heart Conditions
Our whole focus is your fetus, newborn, child or teen. Seattle Children’s providers are board-certified in pediatrics, which means they have extra training and years of experience diagnosing and caring for kids. We only do tests that we believe are medically needed and avoid unnecessary testing.
We pioneered the use of noninvasive procedures to diagnose and treat heart conditions in children. If your child is born with a complex heart defect, we will work with you to create a personalized repair plan, informed by the most advanced imaging techniques. Whenever possible, we use noninvasive methods with little or no radiation, such as echocardiography and cardiac MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).
Along with giving your child state-of-the-art care, we will take time to fully explain your child’s diagnosis and answer any questions you have. Read more about our promise to provide patient- and family-centered care.
Early detection of heart defects
The heart doctors (pediatric cardiologists) in our Fetal Care and Treatment Center provide early, accurate diagnosis and care before birth (prenatally) for congenital heart disease and defects. We find problems with your developing baby as early as possible so you have more time to make decisions and plan care. With our knowledge and the latest technologies, we can find and diagnose congenital heart defects as early as 14 weeks in the womb (14 weeks’ gestation).
We offer prenatal diagnosis and management at many sites in Washington, Alaska and Montana.
Need a diagnosis?
- Make an appointment.
- If you would like a referral to the Heart Center, talk with your child’s doctor.
Learn more about the tools and technologies the doctor may use to accurately diagnose your child’s condition:
In cardiac catheterization, a specially trained heart doctor (cardiologist) inserts small plastic tubes (catheters) into veins and arteries to diagnose or treat a heart condition. The doctor guides the catheters to the right places using X-ray and ultrasound images. Seattle Children’s cardiologists are leaders in safe and effective diagnostic catheterization for newborns, children and adolescents. Learn more.
Cardiac computed tomography (CT) and 3-D imaging
CT is a special type of X-ray used to make pictures of the inside of the body. Cardiac CT is a noninvasive test we use to make a 3-dimensional picture of your child’s heart.
Our Cardiac Genetics Program offers tests, cardiac imaging and exams to diagnose genetic conditions, like connective tissue disorders, that raise the risk for serious blood vessel problems. These conditions may make the wall of the aorta bulge outward (thoracic aortic aneurysm) and cause layers of the aorta to tear and pull apart (aortic dissection). A medical geneticist and a genetic counselor will talk with you about your child’s condition and the risk that other family members or your future children might be affected. Learn more about the Cardiac Genetics Program.
Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Cardiac MRI is a noninvasive test that creates moving and still pictures of the heart and major blood vessels. It uses radio waves, magnets and a computer instead of radiation. It is usually used to check the results of other tests or get clearer results. Based on your child’s age, they might have medicine to make them sleep (anesthesia) before an MRI. Learn more about cardiac MRI.
Chest X-rays are noninvasive tests that provide pictures of the heart and lungs. An X-ray is a form of energy that can pass through your child’s bone and tissue to create an image.
The radiology staff at Seattle Children’s has been trained to lower your child’s stress before, during and after tests like this by distracting your child.
Smaller bodies often need less radiation to get a good image. The dose of radiation varies with each patient and type of exam. Our team uses your child’s age and weight to set the dosage. The radiation doses we give at Seattle Children’s are consistently lower than the American College of Radiology recommends. Learn more.
Echocardiography imaging, including fetal echocardiography
Echocardiography is a test that uses ultrasound waves to make a picture of the heart. It can show how the heart is working, if there are structural problems in the heart and how blood is flowing within the heart and blood vessels. A fetal echocardiogram is an ultrasound image of an unborn baby’s heart. Learn more.
An electrocardiogram is a noninvasive test that records the electrical activity of the heart. It is used to check if the heart rate and rhythm are normal. Learn more.
Electrophysiology (EP) studies
During an EP study, a heart doctor (cardiologist) guides small plastic tubes (catheters) to the heart through the blood vessels of the leg to read the heart’s electrical signals. An EP study is often used to find and treat the cause of an abnormal heart rhythm. It is also sometimes used to tell if a child needs a pacemaker or defibrillator. Learn more.
An event monitor is a noninvasive test. The event monitor is a device, smaller than a deck of cards, that records the heart’s rhythm. It is used to track symptoms such as fast heart rhythms, dizziness and chest pain. When your child feels symptoms and they or you push a button on the event monitor, it records the rhythm. Learn more.
An exercise test is a noninvasive way to measure how the heart responds to work or exercise. This test can show if your child’s heart provides their body with enough blood circulation during exercise. Learn more.
A Holter monitor is a noninvasive test. It is a portable electrocardiogram that your child wears for 24 hours. It records how fast or slow the heart beats throughout the day and night while your child is playing, exercising and sleeping. It helps track symptoms such as dizziness, chest pain, fainting and fast heart rhythms or skipping beats (palpitations). Learn more.
Need a second opinion?
We are available to provide second opinions. If you need a second opinion, please talk with your provider and ask for a referral. We will work with you to understand what you are looking for in the visit. Afterward, we will partner with you and the referring provider to decide on next steps.