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Abdominal complaints as a common first presentation of heart failure in adolescents with dilated cardiomyopathy

The American Journal of Emergency Medicine
DOI: 10.1016/j.ajem.2012.12.009
  • Design
  • Medicine


Abstract Objective We hypothesized that isolated gastrointestinal complaints (abdominal pain, nausea, anorexia, weight loss), in the absence of other symptoms, were a common mode of initial presentation in children with congestive heart failure (CHF). Study design Ninety-eight patients younger than 18 years hospitalized with dilated cardiomyopathy at a single institution between January 1, 2000, and December 31, 2009, were included. Retrospective review of their presenting complaints was recorded and analyzed according to 3 age groups: 0 to 1 year (infants), 1 to 10 years (children), and 11 to 18 years (adolescents) of age. Results Respiratory symptoms were common in all age groups (range, 56%-63%). Gastrointestinal complaints were also common in all age groups (42%, 28%, and 65%, respectively) and were more frequent than respiratory complaints in adolescents. Adolescents were likely to present with abdominal pain as their only complaint (10/43, 23%). Chest pain, syncope, or cardiac arrest occurred rarely. Conclusions Abdominal complaints are a common component of the presenting symptom complex of CHF in pediatric dilated cardiomyopathy in all age groups. In adolescents, abdominal complaints occur more frequently than respiratory complaints and often in the absence of any other symptoms. Unlike CHF in adults, chest pain, arrhythmia, or cardiac arrest occurs rarely at presentation in pediatric patients. Recognition of the different presenting symptoms of heart failure in children by primary providers is crucial to ensuring prompt diagnosis and timely initiation of therapy.

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