The term ‘congenital’ refers to any disease or physical abnormality present from birth onwards. Heart disease can be congenital and it is the most common congenital disease in the world. 1% of the live births in the world are said to have one or more than one congenital heart disease. Most of the time, these diseases can be discovered during childhood.
What Is The Most Common Congenital Heart Defect In Children? Living With A Congenital Heart Defect
Once discovered, it should be treated properly. Recent advancements in the field of cardiology now enable people with congenital heart diseases to live healthier and longer lives. However, 70% of newborns having congenital heart diseases die in the first year after birth. In this article, we discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatments to be taken for congenital heart diseases.
Types Of Congenital Heart Diseases
Congenital heart diseases are broadly classified into two, based on how the defects affect the heart’s ability to pump blood.
- Acyanotic CHDs: Defects in the heart that cause blood to flow through an area not intended to.
- Cyanotic CHDs: Defects in the heart that restrict the flow of blood. It leads to organs having lower oxygen than required.
Most Common Heart Defects
- Hole in the Septum: We know the human heart is four-chambered. Each chamber is separated by a septum. A hole in the septum separating the atria is called an atrial septal defect and a hole in the septum separating the ventricles of the heart is called a ventricular septal defect. Both defects cause the mixing of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood.
- Defect in the heart’s valves: Heart valves prevent the backflow of blood. Any defect in the valves of the heart affects the pressure of the blood flow. If the valves get narrowed, the condition is called stenosis. If the heart valves cannot close properly, the condition is called regurgitation.
- Defects in the blood vessels: Several large blood vessels bring blood into the heart and also carry blood from the heart to other organs. Narrowing of the Aorta, a blood vessel that transports fresh blood from the heart to the organs, can happen at birth. Similarly, if the blood vessels do not connect to the required area of the heart, it could affect the heart’s function and disrupt blood flow.
What Causes Congenital Heart Diseases?
The development of the heart in a fetus starts in the 3rd week of pregnancy, which is in the initial stages of the first trimester. Defects in the heart could arise during this period, which would eventually lead to congenital heart diseases in the future. Is there a way to detect this abnormality during the fetal stage? Fetal echocardiography uses ultrasound to scan and detect any abnormalities during fetal heart development.
If detected, surgeries could be done after delivery to ensure normal working of the heart. Why defects are formed in the heart during its development still baffles scientists and doctors. The most viable answer is that it may be in the genes of the fetus, which are acquired from the parents or any of its ancestors.
Defects in the chromosomes of the fetus during the fusion of the zygotes in the ovaries could lead to chromosomal abnormalities, a probable cause for congenital heart diseases. Children having Down’s syndrome are susceptible to congenital heart diseases. Delayed development of organs and mental disability are characteristics of Down’s syndrome. A mother’s lifestyle can affect the fetus’ heart development.
Drinking alcohol and smoking during pregnancy raises the chances of the fetus to develop a heart defect. Drug use and medication during pregnancy can also lead to heart defects in the fetus. If the mother has diabetes, her baby can develop heart defects. The blood sugar level of the mother should be kept in check during pregnancy to prevent the baby from developing congenital heart diseases.
Signs Of Congenital Heart Diseases
Most of the congenital heart diseases show symptoms soon after the baby is born. Some of it shows signs only after a few years. A few congenital heart diseases show no symptoms and it could be fatal. Some of the signs to look out for are:
- Breathlessness: If the infant has difficulty breathing, the reason can be an underlying heart defect. Shortness of breath in adults, while walking or exercising can also be caused due to defects in their heart. Insufficient supply of oxygen to the organs due to the heart defect can trigger shortness of breath.
- Fast Breathing: If the infant breathes fast and in short breaths, it can potentially be due to a heart defect.
- Irregular heartbeats: If the heartbeats deviate from the regular beating pattern, it is due to a defect in the heart’s pumping cycle. It can be due to some problem in the compression and relaxation of the heart muscles or the opening and closing of the heart valves. If there is a murmur between consecutive heartbeats, it is due to a defect in the heart. Irregular blood flow in the heart causes a murmur. A weak pulse is also a symptom of congenital heart disease.
- Fatigue and always feeling sleepy: To feel sleepy all day and to be extremely fatigued after doing simple chores is a telltale sign of congenital heart disease. It is because your heart cannot keep up and pump blood to your organs to function properly.
- The coloration on skin: If there is a blue coloration on the skin of your lips, fingertips, or nails, it is called cyanosis. It is caused by one of the cyanotic congenital heart diseases.
Can Congenital Heart Diseases Be Cured?
Most of the congenital heart defects can be cured by surgery soon after birth. Minor heart defects heal up with little to no medical intervention. Openings in the heart can be cured by surgery. Similarly, heart valves can be replaced and abnormal rhythms can be corrected with the help of a pacemaker.
If the defects are beyond repair, catheterization, and new technologies allow us to pump the blood and maintain levels of oxygen. Heart transplantation is also a solution to congenital heart diseases.
The Bottom Line
A small defect during the formation of the heart could lead to a congenital heart disease. It could be detected during pregnancy or after birth. If detected, it should be treated. Nowadays, due to the advancements in science, people having heart defects can lead a regular life and not get bogged down due to a disability. Any signs of heart defects should be tested and treated.
Cardiologists can help you lead a healthy life by actively monitoring the heart’s activities and prescribing adequate medications. Routine heart check-ups and exercise can help you to maintain the proper functioning of the heart.
- Moodie D. Adult congenital heart disease: past, present, and future (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3233326/). Tex Heart Inst J. 2011;38(6):705-706. Accessed 8/10/2021.
- Living with a congenital heart defect. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/heartdefects/living.html. Accessed April 2, 2020.
- About congenital heart defects. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/congenital-heart-defects/about-congenital-heart-defects. Accessed Feb. 11, 2022.