Blood Tests and Your Child’s Heart

Blood tests to evaluate heart disease

Children may have blood tests to help their doctor evaluate their illness, or to help monitor their health after surgery.

Illustration of child having a blood test

These tests may include the following:

  • Complete blood count. This test measures the size, number, and maturity of different blood cells in the blood. Red blood cells are important because they carry oxygen through the bloodstream to the organs and cells of the body. If you don’t have enough red blood cells, you have anemia. White blood cells multiply when inflammation or infection is present. Platelets help the blood clot. 

  • Electrolytes. This test measures minerals in the bloods, such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, which are important for the proper function of organs. Sometimes, if a child is taking diuretics (“water pills”), the medicine may cause electrolyte abnormalities. Potassium levels are especially important for healthy heart function.

  • Total protein and albumin. These tests can help evaluate a child’s nutritional status and liver function.

  • Prothrombin time (PT), partial thromboplastin time (PTT), and international normalized ratio (INR).  These test the ability of the blood to clot. Sometimes these tests are done to evaluate how well anticoagulant drugs ( blood thinners such as coumadin) are working, or to see if there is a risk for bleeding. These medicines are taken for various heart problems.

  • Blood gas. A blood sample is taken from an artery to measure the amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.  The acidity or pH of the blood is also measured. This test may be done after a pulse oximetry. This painless, noninvasive test measures the amount of oxygen in the blood through a small, infrared sensor placed on a child’s finger, toe, or earlobe.

  • Genetic blood tests. These tests may be used to detect chromosome abnormalities associated with congenital heart defects. These lab tests must be sent to a special genetics lab and often take days or weeks before results are available.

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