Congenital Heart Defect Facts
Congenital Heart Defect is the most common birth defect affecting approximately, 8 in every 1,000 new-borns, worldwide. Every 14th February, the entire world celebrates the Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Day to raise awareness of Congenital Heart Defects. CHD refers to problems of the hearts structure that are present at birth, which change the blood’s normal flow through the heart. CHD can either be simple or complex and most of them show few symptoms.
The causes for most heart defects are unknown and therefore that makes it quite challenging to know how to prevent them. Some of them can be diagnosed while the baby is still in the womb, however, some are only realised once the baby is born or even reached adulthood.
Congenital heart defects have few or no symptoms. Severe heart defects, however, can cause the following symptoms:
- Breathing fast
- Excessive sweating
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Cyanosis which is a bluish tint of the skin, fingernails and lips
- Experiencing excessive fatigue
- Poor circulation of blood
- Pain in the chest
- Loss of appetite
Causes of Congenital Heart Defects
The exact causes of congenital heart defects are unknown; however, they can be passed from a parent to the child. It is therefore important that if a couple is planning on having a baby, and one of the parents has a heart condition, that they seek advice from a professional, a genetic counsellor if possible, so that they can understand the risk of passing the condition to their child.
Other things that could cause congenital heart defects include:
- Excessive drinking of alcohol during pregnancy
- Not having the mother’s diabetes regulated
- Other genetic conditions such as Down Syndrome, Turner Syndrome and Noonan Syndrome can also lead to having a child with congenital heart defects
- Some medications can also increase the risk of a baby being born with CHD such as acne medications, ibuprofen, anti-sezuire medications
Diagnosis of Congenital Heart Defects
Some heart defects are only diagnosed in childhood or even in adulthood, but serious heart defects are diagnosed before a baby is born or soon after birth. Some of the diagnostic methods include:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG): This test measures the electrical activity of the heart by placing electrodes on the chest wall.
- Echocardiogram: It is an ultrasound test that is used in evaluating the structures of the heart and the direction of blood flow within the heart.
- Chest x-ray: This test uses small amounts of radiation to take images of the inside of the chest to check for any abnormalities that may be present.
- Cardiac catheterization: It is an invasive test used to check for any blockage of the arteries and the size and function of the heart chambers and valves.
- Pulse oximetry: This is done using a device that can monitor the oxygen saturation in the blood as well as the heart rate.
The treatment of congenital heart defects depends on the type of defect and how severe it is. Mild defects may not require treatment.
Some types of heart defects include:
Simple congenital heart defects like septal defects (hole in the heart), patent ductus arteriosus, narrowed valves.
Complex congenital heart defects such as tetralogy which is a combination of 4 defects: these are, the pulmonary valve stenosis.
Treatment can be done through surgery to:
1. Close the holes in the heart with stitches or a patch
2. Widen arteries r openings to the heart
3. Repair or replace heart valves, or
4. Repair complex defects
Prevention of Congenital Heart Defects
To reduce the risk of having a child with congenital heart defects, mothers should do the following:
- Get vaccinated for rubella and flu
- Avoid drug and alcohol usage
- Not smoke
- Have their diabetes controlled if the mother is diabetic
- Take 400 micrograms of folic acid supplements daily if you are deficient
- If the mother has congenital heart disease, she should ensure that her baby is tested for any heart defects through an echocardiogram test which can be done after 16 or 18 weeks of pregnancy
- Avoid exposure to organic solvents such as those used in making nail polish removers, paint thinners and dry cleaning
Managing Congenital Heart Defects
Many children with congenital heart defects can now live normal productive lives thanks to the advances in testing and treating these conditions. For these children to live normal lives, their care givers should ensure that they go for regular check-ups, maintain a healthy diet, remain physically active and be in the right emotional state.