Pediatric Heart Failure Treatment

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Pediatric heart failure occurs when the heart can’t work as well as it should, in one of these ways:

  • Right side heart failure occurs when blood flow to the lungs slows, causing blood to collect on the right side of the heart and back up into the veins.
  • Left side heart failure happens when blood flow slows as it moves out of the heart, causing blood to collect on the left side of the heart and back into the lungs.
  • Congestive heart failure occurs when fluid backs up in the body or lungs.
  • Failure on both sides of the heart leads to poor blood flow that damages other organs.

Causes of Heart Failure in Children

One of two factors most commonly cause a child to have heart failure:

  • A blood flow problem resulting from leaky heart valves, abnormal blood vessel connections, holes in the heart
  • A problem with the heart’s muscle, due to infection, cardiomyopathy, Kawasaki disease, chemotherapy

Signs of Heart Failure in a Child

Symptoms include:

  • Rapid, short, difficult breathing
  • Easily tired
  • Slowed or stopped growth
  • Nausea or vomiting, problems feeding
  • Excessive sweating
  • Swelling

Diagnostic Tools 

Your child’s pediatrician will examine the heart and surrounding structures with:

  • EKG
  • Echocardiogram
  • Chest X-ray
  • Exercise stress test
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Biopsy
  • Blood and urine tests

Treating Pediatric Heart Failure

To help the heart work as well as possible and prevent complications, we either treat the cause of the heart failure with medicine or surgical repair.

For many treatments, we’re the only hospital in Virginia offering the expertise and options your child may need.


Medications can help the heart work better by:

  • Decreasing blood pressure
  • Reducing fluid
  • Regulating heart beat
  • Widening blood vessels

Oxygen Therapy

Heart failure can deprive your child’s organs and tissues of necessary oxygen. Oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen in your child’s blood and body, even if heart failure still limits your child’s blood flow. We can deliver oxygen with either a portable oxygen tank or using ECMO.

Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)

This machine works like a pair of lungs, taking blood out of the body to add oxygen to it. This temporary step can give the heart and lungs a chance to rest while your child recovers from severe illness. Learn more about what ECMO is

Heart Surgery

Surgery can correct congenital heart disease or valve defects causing your child’s heart failure.


A pacemaker implant can treat a slow heart rate by normalizing the heart’s natural rhythm.

Left Ventricular Assist Devices (LVAD) 

LVADs can maintain the blood flow from the heart to the rest of the body while your child waits for a heart transplant. UVA pioneered using LVADs for children and remains the only hospital in Virginia that offers this option.

Double Berlin Heart

This external pump with two chambers, while used rarely in children, can be life-saving.

Heart Transplant

At UVA Health Children's, we have the only full-service pediatric heart transplant program in Virginia.