Heart Failure

Nemours Cardiac Center at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children

1600 Rockland Road, Wilmington, DE 19803 | Get Map & Directions »

Congestive heart failure in children can’t always be prevented, but a lot can be done to improve and often completely repair their hearts at any age. Thanks to advanced technology and the pediatric heart experts at the Nemours Cardiac Center (based at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children), children with congestive heart failure — even newborns only hours or days old — can be quickly diagnosed and treated right when it matters the most.

The Nemours Cardiac Center is one of only a few pediatric heart centers in the country recognized as an Accredited Heart Failure Institute by the Healthcare Accreditation Colloquium. Our cardiologists, heart surgeons and our entire pediatric heart center care team work together to ensure that children with congestive heart failure have the best possible chance at a healthy future.

What Is Congestive Heart Failure?

Heart failure is a generic term for any situation in which the heart isn’t able to pump an adequate amount of blood. "Congestive heart failure" in children occurs when blood gets backed up, or “congested” as it attempts to enter a heart that isn’t working well. When the left ventricle is failing, the congested blood backs up into the lungs and may cause trouble breathing (especially when lying down — this is called “orthopnea”). When the right ventricle is failing, the congestion occurs in the liver and in the legs, leading to problems with liver function and swelling in the legs. 

Symptoms of congestive heart failure in children are often fatigue and shortness of breath. In babies, it’s not eating well and not gaining weight.

There’s not much that can be done to prevent congestive heart failure in children but the most common causes are:
  • congenital (present at birth) heart problems (repaired or unrepaired) that result in the heart not being able to do its job
  • myocarditis (an infection of the heart)
How & When Is Congestive Heart Failure Diagnosed?

At the Nemours Cardiac Center, we offer a variety of tests (including echocardiograms, diagnostic catheterizations and exercise/”stress” tests) to try to determine the severity of heart failure in a child.

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How & When Is Congestive Heart Failure Treated?

At the Nemours Cardiac Center, we can often treat congestive heart failure in children with a variety of medicines at first. When medicines are no longer working (or aren’t working well enough), children often may need heart transplantation and/or mechanical circulatory support, which can be used instead of heart transplantation (but is more often used to get children to heart transplantation as healthy as possible).

Mechanical circulatory support devices (also often called “ventricular assist devices,” or “VADs”) are pumps that replace the function of the heart. There are a variety of different types of pumps that can be used in different children. At the Nemours Cardiac Center, we have many pumps available, from ones designed for newborns to pumps for teens and adults. Some of the pumps support children for days or weeks, and some pumps can even go home with children who need them.

If your child has congestive heart failure, know that at the Nemours Cardiac Center we’re here to give your child the very best, most comprehensive and compassionate care. Our goal is to guide your family, from start to finish, through your child’s heart disease journey — and to help your child live the healthiest, most fulfilling life possible.

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Learn More About Heart Transplants

Get detailed information about heart transplants from Nemours’ experts at KidsHealth. Read KidsHealth Article »

Why Choose Us

From our outcomes to our family-centered care, find out all of the reasons why your child’s heart will be in good hands at the Nemours Cardiac Center. Learn More »

Make an Appointment

(800) 416-4441

Insurance We Accept »

Information for Patients

Outpatient Services and Inpatient Units: (302) 651-6660

After 5 p.m. and Weekends:

Cardiac Intensive Care Unit: (302) 651-6644
General Inpatient Unit, 2B: (302) 651-6690


+1 (302) 651-4993

Inspiring Patient Stories

Meet some of our courageous Nemours Cardiac Center patients who know what’s like to have heart failure: