What Is Heart Disease?

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A few facts

Heart disease is one of the most prevalent childhood diseases, and it can touch anyone. While congenital heart disease (CHD) is the most common type of birth defect for children born in the United States and the most common cause of death globally, it is both under researched and under funded. It doesn't need to be this way. Through raising awareness and encouraging others to donate toward further research on heart disease, we can improve, lengthen and save children's lives.

There are 40 different types of congenital heart defects, and approximately one million children are born with heart disease every year. While this is a very serious condition, half of the people living with congenital heart disease today are adults over the age of 18. [1]

What it means

Children who have congenital heart disease have hearts that did not form properly before their birth. This means that their heart has structural or bio-electrical abnormalities. In other words, the heart or other vessels are too small or too large, they might have missing parts of their heart or holes between chambers, and their valves and vessels may be too narrow or even leak. While there are 40 types of congenital heart defects, there is no cure for any of them. Only 15-20% of congenital heart defects have been linked to genetic disorders, and the cause for the remainder of CHDs is unknown. [2]

Signs of CHD

Some families who have a fetal echocardiogram during pregnancy can detect congenital heart disease, but many parents do not learn that their child has a CHD until after their child is born. A doctor may identify CHD when listening to the child’s heart beat based on an abnormal sound or heart murmur, and they will recommend further testing. In other cases, parents can detect CHD if they see that their child has a blue tint to their skin or lips, if the child breathes very quickly, eats poorly or fails to gain weight or feels like they have difficulty exercising but also sweat profusely. [3]

What you should know

While surgical intervention can stabilize the condition, successful surgery does not mean that the the child is cured as they will have to see a cardiologist for further monitoring for their entire lives. Additionally, half of all children born with congenital heart defects will need at least one open heart surgery during their lives. The medical procedures to deal with CHDs are often painful and invasive, requiring long hospital stays. While the condition is traumatic for children, it is also traumatic for their families who live with the fear their child’s situation might not remain stable and will need further dangerous surgeries and procedures in the future.  

As the heart is a central organ for the body’s functioning, problems with the heart or extended hospital stays can also lead to problems with other organs in the body. Long periods of time in the hospital can lead to life-threatening infections, heart conditions can cause problems with the lungs or kidneys, and stopping or starting the heart during surgery can lead to a lack of oxygen to the brain resulting in various impairments.  

You can do something

Bears for Hope seeks to raise awareness about heart disease and be a resource to families who journey the difficult road of chronic illness. Raising awareness about congenital heart disease helps to promote research into this important field and support patients and families to learn about various therapies and options available to them. Advancements in medical research on heart disease play a crucial role in saving and prolonging the lives of children with chronic heart defects. At the same time, this important field is underfunded compared to many other areas of important medical research. For example, while congenital heart disease is sixty times more common than childhood cancer, funding for children with cancer is five times higher than funding for children with heart disease!

You can be a part of helping children with heart disease. Here are a few ways you can get involved:

  1. Raise awareness and educate others about heart disease by liking our Facebook page and sharing our work with others.
  2. Join us in bringing hope and comfort to children with chronic illnesses by donating to one of our many initiatives
  3. Support organizations researching heart disease and helping children with congenital heart disease. We love the work of the Pediatric Congenital Heart Association, the Midwest Heart Connection and Save a Child's Heart.





[1] Congenital Heart Public Health Consortium, FAQ Fact Sheet.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Children’s Heart Foundation, What is a Congenital Heart Defect (CHD)?