About 9 of every 1000 babies born in America have congenital heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. About 1 in 4 babies with the condition have critical congenital heart disease, according to statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If your child has a congenital heart defect, it means they are born with a problem in the structure of their heart.
While some congenital heart diseases may not need any treatment, some can be quite complex and might require multiple surgeries. With proper congenital heart disease support and follow-up care, nearly all children survive to adulthood. Some cases may require continuous care throughout their lives, but most people go on to live active, productive lives despite the condition.
What is Congenital Heart Disease?
Congenital heart disease or congenital heart defect is an abnormality present in the heart at birth. In other words, it means that someone’s heart was born with a problem. The problem can be a small hole in the heart or something more severe that affects:
- The heart valves
- The blood vessels
- The heart walls.
That means there are many types of congenital heart defects that vary based on the symptoms and where they affect a child. Most congenital heart diseases can be treated with surgery. In some cases, doctors can detect these problems before the baby is born, sometimes in childhood and in rare cases in adulthood.
What Causes Congenital Heart Diseases?
Most congenital heart diseases have no known cause. However, they tend to run in families. A baby is likely to have congenital heart defects if any of the parents or relatives have had similar problems. Other things that increase the chances of congenital heart diseases include:
- Smoking or drug misuse during pregnancy
- Problems with genes or chromosomes
- Certain medications like acne and anti-seizure drugs
- Viral infection like German measles during pregnancy
- Diabetes in mothers
What are the Symptoms of Congenital Heart Disease?
A doctor may detect congenital heart disease through an ultrasound. If the heartbeat is abnormal, they might want to investigate it by conducting specific tests. These tests include a chest X-ray, an MRI scan or an echocardiogram. The doctor will organize the right specialists during birth if the diagnosis is confirmed. In other cases, the symptoms of congenital heart disease may not appear until shortly after birth. The symptoms include:
- Breathlessness or trouble breathing
- Trouble breastfeeding
- Low birth weight
- Bluish skin, lips, toes and fingers
- Chest pain and delayed growth
How Are Congenital Heart Defects Treated?
Babies with congenital heart problems require careful examination by pediatric cardiologists. These are experienced health care professionals who diagnose heart defects and help manage a child’s health before and after surgery. Specialists in charge of the surgery to correct the heart problem are known as cardiothoracic surgeons or pediatric cardiovascular surgeons.
Congenital heart disease treatments vary from one child to another. Some may not require any treatment, while others may need surgery and other procedures. Some children may need to use medication for the rest of their lives. They also need to make regular visits to their specialists for easier congenital heart disease support and follow up.