A pediatric cardiologist diagnoses and treats systemic disorders affecting a child's cardiovascular system, including congenital heart defect, heart muscle disorder, rhythm disturbances and hypertension. These physicians also care for patients who no longer fall into the pediatric age range when an underlying congenital heart defect or other condition requires specialized treatment such as long QT syndrome, a disorder affecting the electrical system of the heart.
Congenital heart disease refers to a condition that has been present since birth. Congenital heart defects can involve malformations of the heart or large blood vessels near the heart. Some of these defects are found at birth or before, whereas others show up as a child grows up. Some people don't have a detectable problem until adulthood. About one in every 100 babies is born with congenital heart disease, and medical researchers have identified at least 35 different types of congenital heart defects.
A cardiac specialist is also called in when a suspected heart condition occurs in an unborn child. Monitoring the fetus through fetal echocardiography helps doctors decide whether immediate intervention is required. This specialist can help guide the situation while the infant is in the womb and prepare for treatment after birth.
Children may also be exposed to conditions that can cause acquired heart disease. Most common cases involve mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome (or Kawasaki syndrome, which affects the mucous membranes and glands), hypertension, endocarditis (inflammation of the heart lining) or heart injury due to infections or viruses.