Acquired Heart Disease

Definition and Symptoms

Acquired heart disease appears, in children, after birth. Usually it is the result of damage done to the heart by a disease, virus or bacteria. The most common acquired heart problem is caused by rheumatic fever. In some children with acquired heart disease, a cause cannot be found. Some of the common symptoms seen in children with acquired heart disease are:

  • Breathing problems
  • Low blood pressure
  • Excessive sweating
  • Lack of appetite
  • Poor growth

Causes of Acquired Heart Disease

Acquired heart disease is seen much more in adults than in children. The most common acquired conditions among children are as follows:

  • Kawasaki disease: Primarily occurs in children under the age of 5, and causes inflammation of the blood vessels that can result in damage to the coronary arteries and a widening of the vessel called an aneurysm.
  • Myocarditis: The heart muscle becomes inflamed and may be damaged after a viral infection.
  • Cardiomyopathy: A disease of the heart muscle, caused by a genetic disorder or after an infection. It leads to poor heart function.
  • Rheumatic heart disease: This is a result of rheumatic fever caused by streptococcal bacteria. Most likely to strike children between 5 and 15 years old, rheumatic fever can scar heart valves to the point where they may not function properly.

Other acquired heart disorders may occur in children treated for congenital (present from birth) heart defects. Like adults successfully treated for heart disease, these children have an increased risk of endocarditis, damage to the valves and structure of the heart caused by infection or inflammation. Young children and teens also develop arrhythmias — abnormal heart rhythms.


There are a range of treatment options for acquired heart disease, including:

  • Lifestyle changes: Heart-healthy changes to diet, a personalized strategy for getting physically active, or giving up smoking and other forms of tobacco can all contribute to cardiovascular health.
  • Medical therapy: Medications can reverse, stabilize, or slow the progress of some forms of cardiovascular disease.
  • Interventions: Minimally invasive procedures can save lives and provide relief for symptoms of cardiovascular disease. For example, angioplasty and stenting can now be used to treat blockages in blood vessels leading to the heart, brain, legs, and kidneys.
  • Surgery: Various surgical approaches to treating cardiovascular conditions like cardiac bypass graft surgery, etc.


Factors that prevent the diagnosis and treatment of Pediatric Heart diseases

While most children who undergo treatment for pediatric heart disease can be relatively ensured of good outcomes and the opportunity to live healthy lives, the majority of the world’s children born with CHD will never receive this treatment. Access to treatment and surgery are, in general, readily available to the majority of children who live in developed countries, but the same cannot be said for children in developing countries. The problem for children with congenital heart disease in developing countries is not that treatments do not exist, but that these children have almost no access to them. Studies have shown that only a small fraction of the children with heart disease in the developing world are receiving treatment.

Treatments for congenital heart disease are unavailable to the majority of the world’s population for a number of reasons. The expense of treatment, poor access to health care, the undeveloped state of many countries’ health systems, and a lack of resources and personnel make it difficult for all but a privileged few to seek pediatric cardiac care. These factors do not even take into account the additional obstacles that face many poor countries, such as poor governance, corruption, and even war. Because many of the world’s countries struggle to meet their countries’ most basic health needs, providing resources for tertiary diseases such as cardiac diseases can sometimes be almost impossible.

Each barrier to treatment of congenital heart disease by itself represents a formidable challenge to treating poor children with heart disease. The greatest difficulty, however, is that many of these problems are linked to each other, and each of these challenges may reinforce and exacerbate each other. These barriers to diagnosis and treatment must be addressed before children with congenital heart disease in the developing world can have equal access to cardiac care and treatment.