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Inside Pediatrics Podcast

Birmingham, Ala. (Feb. 14, 2024) — February is American Heart Month, a month to raise awareness for conditions that affect every heart, from neonatal patients to adults. 

Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital Heart Defects (CHDs) are conditions that present at birth and can affect the structure of a baby’s heart and how it works.

 Congenital heart disease arises from problems in the development of the heart in utero,” said Dr. Santiago Borasino, medical director of the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit at Children’s of Alabama. “Most of the time, it is like connections between different chambers of the heart or abnormalities on the large vessels that come out of the heart.”
Borasino says congenital heart defects happen up to about one percent of births in the United States, about 40,000 a year. He also says only one in four are what’s called critical congenital heart disease, which means the child needs surgery in the first year of life.

Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect. They can range from mild to severe. Some may cause serious symptoms at birth. Others may not be diagnosed until the child is a teenager or an adult. Survival of infants with CHD and other congenital defects depends on how severe the defect is, when it is diagnosed, and how it is treated. 

Vaping and Heart Health
Another concern when it comes to heart health is vaping. Vaping has become a troubling and growing addiction among young people over the past few years.  



According to the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey, more than 2 million U.S. middle and high school students reported using e-cigarettes in 2021, with more than 8 in 10 of those admitting to using flavored e-cigarettes. Robin Geurs, a certified tobacco treatment specialist at Children’s of Alabama, says some children think vaping is less harmful than smoking cigarettes because there is no smoke. However, she says vaping has been proven to impact cardiovascular health in dangerous ways. 
“The danger exists partly because all nicotine in a vaping product is absorbed when it is inhaled,” said Geurs. “
Some of the heart health side effects from vaping include increased heart rate and released adrenaline. These factors can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke, even in children or teenagers.
Geurs says parents have several options when it comes to helping their children avoid or stop vaping. This includes having a talk with their child about the harmful effects of vaping, maintaining a smoke and vape-free environment, or sharing about the many harmful chemicals in e-liquids.

Heart Healthy Diet
Parents can also ensure their children are heart-healthy by watching what they eat.  

Heart Healthy

Katy Broman, a dietitian at Children’s of Alabama, says heart-healthy eating is a diet high in fiber and low in fat and salt. The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition recommends that healthy children age two and older follow a low-fat diet (30 percent of calories from fat).
“Heart-healthy eating protects the heart by keeping it strong so it can pump blood throughout the body,” said Broman. “It is not only good for your heart, but also for the vessels in the body.”
Broman says parents should aim for five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. The fruits and vegetables can be fresh, frozen or canned. Broman also says if parents get canned vegetables, look for a “low sodium” version or rinse off the vegetables to remove the salt. Families should look for 100% whole grain for bread, pasta or rice. For poultry, fish and ground meats, Broman recommends families consider meat that is at least 93% lean and use spices and herbs instead of seasoning packets, which are often high in salt.
“Heart-healthy eating does not have to be boring,” said Broman. “Include your child in grocery shopping and have them pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try.”

For more information about the Pediatric and Congenital Heart Center of Alabama, click here.