At the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital, we provide the most advanced treatment options for infants, children and teens suffering from heart failure. Congestive heart failure occurs when the heart muscle is unable to deliver enough nutrient-rich blood to meet the body’s need for oxygen. In babies and young children, this may happen when a valve defect allows too much blood to pass through the lungs, overwhelming the body. In older children and teens, heart failure often results from a weakened or damaged heart muscle. During heart failure, the heart keeps pumping, but cannot efficiently meet the body's needs.

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of heart failure in children include difficulty breathing and/or lack of interest in eating. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Slow growth
  • Excessive sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure


To diagnose or rule out heart failure, our physicians will start by taking a medical history and performing a physical exam. We may also use some of the following tests:

  • Echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to create a picture of the heart
  • Cardiac catheterization, which is a minimally invasive procedure that uses a small, flexible tube to examine the heart
  • Cardiac computed tomography (CT) scan, which takes pictures of the heart using X-ray waves
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which takes pictures of the heart using a machine with a large magnet

Treating Heart Failure in Children

The cause of each patient's heart failure will determine his/her treatment plan. If your child's heart failure is caused by a congenital heart defect, the underlying defect will likely need to be treated — either with medication or surgery. Children with heart failure caused by arrhythmias may require a pacemaker or radiofrequency ablation to correct the abnormal heartbeat. Before recommending surgery, our cardiologists and cardiac surgeons will discuss the best treatment options for your child and family.