Health Alert: Childhood heart attacks

NATIONAL (NBC)- How can you tell if your child is having a heart attack? It's something most parents have probably never thought of.

Heart attacks in children are rare, but they do happen.

Experts say chest pain is common in children, but it's almost always caused by something other than a heart attack.

"It can be due to pulmonary conditions, asthma, pneumonia, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal conditions," explained pediatric cardiologist Dr. John Lane.

Dr. Lane studied nine children and teenagers who had heart attacks.

They showed up at emergency rooms with severe chest pain, but no history of heart problems.

It was the type of pain that gave doctors a clue.

"That in particular is the group of patients that we think warrants further investigation, those presenting acutely with chest pain that radiates into the arm, or their neck or their jaw," Dr. Lane explained.

Dr. Gerald Boyle, a pediatric cardiologist with the Cleveland Clinic, says because chest pain in kids is so common, not all patients need to be screened for a heart attack.

"We can rule out something more important by listening carefully to the patient, asking some questions and doing a complete physical exam," Dr. Boyle said.

Doctors say blood clots usually cause heart attacks in adults, but spasms typically cause them in children.

This study warns doctors: Don't assume it's not a heart attack just because the patient is young.

The good news for kids is within months there's often no sign it ever happened.

Like adults, the key for children having heart attacks is to get medical help right away.

The study appears in the October 1st edition of the journal "Pediatrics."

Posted by Bryce Mursch