February Is Heart Health Month For Kids, Too

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PM Pediatrics shares common causes of chest pain in children

By Christina Johns

Picture this: Your child is outside playing and she suddenly complains that her heart is racing and she has sharp chest pain. Is your child having a heart attack? Probably not, but with heart disease the number one cause of death in the United States, this scenario would make any parent nervous.

While heart attacks in children are rare, they do happen and having an urgent medical evaluation, especially for sustained chest pain that lasts for more than a few minutes, is key to learning about any risks your child may have for heart disease and knowing what to do to keep their hearts healthy.

So what do parents need to know about chest pain that is caused by something other than the heart? Here are some of the most common causes of chest pain in children and the one instance when parents should go to a doctor immediately.

Medicine

Albuterol, the most common medicine for wheezing given to children via inhaler or nebulizer, can cause your child’s heart to race. The racing heart will go away after a few minutes, but if you’ve just administered Albuterol and your child begins to complain about a racing heart this is probably the cause.

Costochondritis

Pronounced (kos-tuh-kon-DRY-tis), this is thought of as chest wall pain. Often a result of strenuous activity (like weight-lifting or gymnastics), this can also happen when children have an upper respiratory infection with frequent coughing. The pain is due to inflammation of the cartilage that attaches your sternum to your rib cage. Pain can typically be reproduced with pressing on the inflamed area and it generally goes away within a few days. Usually not a cause for concern, heat packs and ibuprofen can be given for pain relief if necessary.

Acid Reflux/Gas

Children are notorious for having trouble pinpointing pain so “chest pain” can actually be heartburn or gas pains. After visiting a doctor, acid reflux and gas can be resolved with antacids and changes to diet.

The causes of chest pain outlined above are important to be aware of and generally go away in a few days or with medicine, but there is one instance where parents need to worry about their child’s heart health:

If a child passes out during exercise all physical activity must stop immediately and the child needs to be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible. This may just mean getting an ECG, a chest x-ray and/or a physical exam, so even if your child says they feel fine after a few minutes of rest, do not allow any physical activity until a physician has evaluated them for potential heart conditions.

Dr. Christina Johns

Dr. Christina Johns is a practicing pediatric emergency physician and the Senior Medical Advisor for PM Pediatrics, the largest provider of specialized urgent care in the nation with more than 30 locations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Texas, Virginia and opening soon in California.

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