Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Your child's doctor may initially suspect a problem because he or she hears a heart murmur during a routine exam. A heart murmur is a sound that occurs when blood flows through your child's heart abnormally. Many heart murmurs are innocent, meaning the murmur isn't dangerous to your child's health. Some murmurs, however, may mean blood is flowing through your child's heart abnormally because he or she has a heart defect.

Tests to diagnose a congenital heart defect

If it's possible your child has a heart defect, your doctor or your child's doctor may order several tests to see if your child has a heart problem. In addition to a regular physical exam, these could include:

  • Fetal echocardiogram. This test allows your doctor to see if your child has a heart defect before he or she is born. In this test, your doctor performs an ultrasound. The sound waves from the ultrasound are used to create a picture of your baby's heart. Doctors can use the information from the test to diagnose the condition and plan treatment.
  • Echocardiogram. Your child's doctor may use a regular echocardiogram to diagnose a congenital heart defect after your child has been born. In this noninvasive test, your child's doctor performs an ultrasound to produce images of the heart. An echocardiogram allows the doctor to see your child's heart in motion. The doctor can use these images to identify abnormalities in the heart muscle and valves.
  • Electrocardiogram. This noninvasive test records the electrical activity of your child's heart and can help diagnose heart defects or rhythm problems. Electrodes connected to a computer and printer are placed on your baby's chest and show waves that indicate how your child's heart is beating.
  • Chest X-ray. Your child may have a chest X-ray to see if the heart is enlarged, or if the lungs have extra blood or other fluid in them. These could be signs of heart failure.
  • Pulse oximetry. This test measures how much oxygen is in your child's blood. A sensor is placed over the end of your child's finger — similar to a loosefitting clothespin — to record the amount of oxygen in your child's blood. Too little oxygen could suggest your child has a heart problem.
  • Cardiac catheterization. In this test, a thin, flexible tube (catheter) is inserted into a blood vessel at your baby's groin or arm and guided through it into the heart. It's not always clear how serious a congenital heart defect is when it's found through echocardiography, but catheterization can give your child's doctor a much more detailed view of your child's heart. And, for certain defects, treatment procedures can be done during cardiac catheterization that will improve the heart's function.
Oct. 02, 2012