Congenital heart disease is a type of congenital disability that affects the heart. This condition is present in about 1.2% of babies born worldwide. It can be treated with medication that lowers blood pressure and controls the heart rate in most cases. However, in other cases, a full heart transplant may be required.
What causes congenital heart disease?
Genetic and environmental factors mainly cause this condition. Some of these include:
– Genetic conditions. The disease is often associated with people who have Down’s syndrome, Turner syndrome, or Marfan syndrome.
– Smoking, drinking or abusing drugs during pregnancy
– Infections such as German measles while pregnant
– The presence of type 1 or type 2 diabetes
– Taking medication when pregnant, such as statins and acne medication
– This condition can also be genetically inherited and may run in your family
Your weight can also increase the chances of this disease. For example, obese people have a greater risk of giving birth to children with congenital heart disease.
What are the symptoms of congenital heart disease?
This disease has many symptoms, such as.
– Abnormal and rapid heartbeat
– Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
– Swelling of the baby’s legs, stomach, or the area around their eyes
– Elevated tiredness or fatigue
– Heart murmur
– Frequent lung infections
– Skin, lips, and fingernails which turn blue (also known as cyanosis)
– Difficulty with feeding
While these symptoms are usually present in children with this disease, there are also cases where no symptoms are present.
Types of congenital heart disease
There are several types of congenital heart disease. For example, your baby may have one of the following conditions.
– Septal defects – this is a defect where there is a hole between the heart chambers
– Coarctation of the aorta – with this condition, the main artery, known as the aorta, is narrowed
– Pulmonary valve stenosis – the pulmonary valve, which controls the flow of blood out of the heart, the narrower than usual
– Transposition of the arteries – the pulmonary and aortic valves and their arteries have changed positions
– Underdeveloped heart – the heart hasn’t developed correctly, making it harder to pump blood through your body
In addition to this, there may be other problems. These issues usually have to do with things like
– Heart valve defects
– Issues with the walls of the heart
– Problems with the hearts muscle
– Difficulties with connections between blood vessels
Diagnosing congenital heart disease
In a best-case scenario, congenital disabilities are diagnosed before birth. For example, this condition is often picked up while performing an ultrasound. There are also other methods such as.
– Fetal echocardiogram – this is a test that uses ultrasound pictures to examine the heart and its valves
– Gene testing – geneticists will take blood samples and determine if you have genetic abnormalities
This condition can often not be detected until the child is born. Remember, this condition can go undetected throughout your entire life. On the other hand, the child may immediately display certain symptoms.
Doctors will also carry out a newborn physical examination. The doctor will check your child’s pulse and listen to their heart with the stethoscope in this examination. This helps to detect problems such as heart murmurs. If an issue is found, the doctor will order tests such as:
– Echocardiography – This test allows doctors to see inside the heart and check for problems
– Electrocardiogram – this test measures the heart’s electrical activity. Sensors are attached to the child’s body. These can detect electrical signals and determine how well the heart is beating
Chest X-Ray checks for blood in the lungs and if the heart is bigger than normal. Either of these can be signs of heart disease
– Pulse oximetry – this test measures how much oxygen is in your blood. Low levels of oxygen can lead to cyanosis
Cardiac catheterization – this test helps determine how blood moves through the heart. A tube is inserted into the heart, and this allows Doctors to take pressure measurements
– MRI and CT scans – these imaging scans can provide further diagnostic information
Treating congenital heart disease
How this disease is treated will depend on many things—the most significant being the type of defect that the child or person has. You must first understand that most of these defects are mild and do not have to be treated. That being said, you will need frequent checkups during your life.
When the problem is more advanced, surgery is often required. However, this does not necessarily mean a full heart transplant. Another solution is medications, which are used to relieve symptoms. For example, these medications can remove fluid, make breathing easier, slow down your heartbeat, increase the strength of the heart, or control blood pressure. Examples of these medications include:
– ARBs and ACE inhibitors – this medication lowers blood pressure and relaxes blood vessels.
– Beta-blockers – these slow your heart rate down and also widen arteries
– Diuretics – These are also known as water pills and help decrease fluid levels. This way, they help to lower blood pressure
As mentioned previously, in severe cases, surgical intervention may be necessary. There are many procedures that Doctors can use to repair these defects. Most of the time, it takes multiple procedures, which are done as the child grows up. For example, as their heart grows, replacement valves must be changed. The two major procedures include:
– Cardiac catheterization – this procedure is mainly used for closing holes in the heart. It is also used when a narrowed valve or artery needs to be opened. In the case of a hole, the Doctor uses the catheter to place a patch over the hole. Over time tissue will develop, and this holds the wall together. When an artery needs to be opened, the Doctor will insert a catheter with a tiny balloon. This is then inserted into the artery or valve and inflated.
– Open heart surgery – in this surgery, the doctor will cut through the breastbone and operate directly on the heart. This allows them to solve problems such as holes in the heart, valve problems, and narrow arteries. Because this surgery is highly invasive and dangerous for infants, most Doctors prefer to avoid it where possible.
Once the surgery is complete, your child will be taken to the neonatal intensive care unit to recover. How long this takes will depend on the surgery. You will also be advised on home care and when to come in for a follow-up.
This diagnosis can be challenging for parents to deal with. The best thing you can do is avoid panicking. Just because your child has this disease does not necessarily mean they will die. Most children actually survive. In fact, this condition has a 97% survival rate.
If you’re struggling with the diagnosis, then it’s a good idea to get support for yourself. There are dozens of support worldwide dedicated to helping the parents of children with these conditions. There are also support groups for adults with congenital heart defects. It’s also critical that you trust your Doctor. They know what’s best for the child and help you get through this challenging period.