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Heart Conditions in Children - Exercise and Physical Stamina

Physical considerations for your child:

Physical stamina will vary for each child with congenital (present at birth) heart disease. Children with heart defects that cause symptoms, such as shortness of breath, fast heart rate, or sweating, may have less energy and endurance. Children with cyanotic congenital heart defects also have less stamina because they have lower levels of oxygen in the bloodstream to begin with, and can deplete their oxygen levels even faster with play or exercise.

Many children with congenital heart disease can play and participate in activities with friends, but may tire faster and will naturally stop when they are tired. For others, it may be necessary to actually place limits on physical activity. Some children can play sports and participate in physical education in school, but cannot participate in competitive or contact sports. Always consult your child's physician as to what type of activities are appropriate for your child. Once you know how active your child can be, allow him/her participate in appropriate activities to foster muscle development, coordination, and emotional relationships with friends and siblings.

If physical activity must be limited in a school-aged child, your child's physician or nurse can write a letter to help teachers understand the activities your child can and cannot participate in. Many teachers can plan recreational activities creatively so that your child feels included and does not feel different because he/she cannot participate in all sports activities. Aerobic activities are seldom restricted, but repetitive weight lifting of greater than 25 pounds in children and 50 pounds in adults generally is not recommended.

Physical therapists can also provide suggestions for exercises and other activities that may be done at home to help improve your child's muscle strength and coordination, as well as help him/her achieve developmental milestones, such as sitting, crawling, pulling up to stand, and walking. Physical therapy may be carried out in sessions at the hospital, as well as by parents at home.

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