Heart Failure in Children
Part I: History, Etiology, and Pathophysiology
Why is heart failure in children important? If we just consider the number of individuals affected, adult heart failure is clearly a more compelling public health problem. However, the relatively small numbers belie the overall economic and social impact of pediatric heart failure. When a child is admitted to the hospital for heart failure, the costs are considerably higher for children than adults because of the frequent need for surgical or catheter-based intervention. The demands of medical care can fray the family structure and adversely affect parental economic productivity. When a child dies of heart failure, the economic impact is magnified enormously because of the number of potentially productive years lost per death. For these and other reasons, heart failure in children is a serious public health concern.
In addition, growing numbers of children with heart failure are reaching adulthood because of the successful application of medical and surgical heart failure therapies and the improved outcomes of congenital heart surgery. A greater understanding of the pathophysiology of heart failure in childhood may help inform therapeutic strategies once these children become adults. Furthermore, given the recent explosion of research in the impact of cardiac development and cardiogenetics on pediatric cardiovascular disease, it is not outside the realm of possibility for a pediatric discovery to be made that will also benefit adults with heart failure.
We may not yet be able to agree on a definition of heart failure, but the cardinal symptoms, dyspnea, anasarca (“dropsy”), and cachexia, were well recognized in antiquity.1 These symptoms were not specific for cardiac pathology, and it was not until the 17th century, when William Harvey definitively identified the heart as an organ that pumped blood rather than generating heat, that the heart could begin to be understood as a source of dyspnea, edema, and …