People with a congenital heart defect (CHD) suffer from a birth defect to their heart. The defect is in the structure of the heart, and specifically within the vessels. There are many different heart defects, most are caused by issues with blood flowing through the heart in an odd of abnormal way. Obstructions occur and the blood doesn’t get where it needs to go correctly. Other defects work to affect the heart’s normal rhythm and pace. Heart defects are the number one cause of death caused by birth defects. They are also among the most widespread and common birth defects. About 9 babies in 1000 get born with a heart defect. The good news is that a lot of heart defects are not actually going to need treatment. Those that do are typically treated with medicines or with some heart surgery.
The type of symptoms people will see depend on the severity and type of CHD. Some CHDs go undetected due to a lack of symptoms throughout a person’s life, but most symptoms are present right in the beginning. The most common symptoms and signs are a bluish tint to the skin, fingernails, and lips, a heart murmur, shortness of breath or fast breathing, poor weight gain in infants or poor feeding, and fatigue during activity or exercise. Older children with CHDs may get tired easily or become short of breath during physical exertion. Most CHDs cause the heart to work harder than it should, which can eventually lead to heart failure. The Heart and Stroke Foundation provides information about CHD and its symptoms.
Potential causes of CHD may be either environmental or genetic. They may be a combination of the two factors. Many of the identified causes of CHD are unexpected genetic changes. This includes focal mutations and the addition/deletion of segments of DNA. It’s also possible for specific microscopic abnormalities in chromosomes to cause CHD. Genetics and a person’s heredity can be responsible for some versions of heart defects. A parent who has a CHD may be more likely than other people to have a child with a CHD, although it is rare for more than one child in a family to be born with a heart defect. Women who choose to smoke during pregnancy have also shown a correlation with CHD.
During the first trimester of pregnancy and before a woman becomes pregnant are the critical times for preventing a congenital heart defect. Prior to pregnancy, every woman should check to make sure she is immune to rubella. The best way to find out is to be tested, and if no immunity is shown, to be vaccinated. All women should avoid using street drugs during pregnancy. Women should also control their exposure to alcohol, strong chemicals, x-rays, and prescription medications during pregnancy. Women who suffer from seizures or diabetes should also talk with their physicians before attempting to conceive to help minimize or eliminate any risk to the developing fetus. For parents with other children or other familial relations with a CHD may want to look into genetic counseling before making a decision on trying to conceive another child.
There is some good news. There are cases where CHD improves without serious treatment, and some defects are tiny and don’t need any treatment whatsoever. Sadly, most cases of CHD are very serious. Treatment will included medication, leading to surgery if that isn’t enough.
Common medications will usually start to try and help the body eliminate water and salts as well as a medication designed to strengthen the heart contractions. Some defects may require surgery to attempt to restore a person’s circulation to a more normal level. The treatment generally depends on the type and severity of heart defect, and also depends on the child ’s age, general health, and size. Most patients prefer catheter procedures over surgery because they are much easier on the body, and because of this they are becoming more common. Catheter procedures involve a needle puncture in the skin where the flexible, thin tube is inserted into an artery or vein. Thus, doctors do not need to operate directly on the heart and thus do not need to open the chest, making the recovery much easier and quicker. Catheter procedures have become the preferred way to repair many simple heart defects. Many patients will have to undergo a lifetime of specialized treatment and cardiac care. It will begin by seeing a cardiologist specializing in children. Following that, they will see a congenital cardiologist later for adults later in life. There are over 1,800,000 adults in the world who have to live with CHD.