Congenital Heart Disease
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What is congenital heart disease?
Congenital heart disease is a problem with the heart that is present at birth. “Congenital” is just another way of saying that your baby was born with it. It means the heart developed with an abnormality or weakness. The condition can be fatal.
Congenital heart problems are the most common kind of birth defect. They can be simple or complex. They could include:
- Heart valve defects
- A hole in the heart
- Defects in one of the chambers
- Heart muscle abnormalities
What are the symptoms of congenital heart disease?
The symptoms depend on the type of heart problem. Some heart problems cause symptoms right away. Others cause symptoms as the child gets older. Sometimes there are never any symptoms. Many babies who have a congenital heart defect grow up to be healthy and strong.
Serious congenital heart problems may the following symptoms in newborns:
- Fast breathing
- A blue color to the skin, lips, and fingernails
- Fatigue or poor feeding
- Heart murmur (an extra sound, heard when a healthcare provider listens to the heart)
In older children or adults, congenital heart problems may cause symptoms such as:
- Heart murmur
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue during exercise
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
What causes congenital heart disease?
Healthcare providers don’t always know what caused a congenital heart problem. Some risk factors for congenital heart problems include:
- A family history of congenital heart problems
- Certain genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome
- Certain infections during pregnancy, such as rubella
- Some medicines, chemicals, and alcohol
Heart problems have also been found in babies of women with diabetes who don’t control their blood sugar during pregnancy.
DIAGNOSIS & TESTS
How is congenital heart disease diagnosed?
Severe heart problems can be diagnosed during pregnancy with an ultrasound test. Sometimes, the problem is diagnosed right after the baby is born. Less severe heart problems may not be found until the child is older, or even in adulthood.
Several tests can show what kind of heart disease your baby may have. They also help your healthcare provider see how well the heart is working. A healthcare provider may order tests if they suspect a congenital heart defect, or if your baby has a high risk factor. Here are some tests your baby might have:
- An ECG or EKG (electrocardiogram) measures electrical activity in the heart.
- Pulse oximetry shows how much oxygen is in the baby’s blood.
- A fetal ultrasound gives the healthcare provider an ultrasound picture of the baby’s heart.
- A chest X-ray shows how well the heart is growing and if your baby’s lungs have fluid in them.
- Cardiac catheterization uses dye in the heart to give the healthcare provider a clear picture of the heart problem.
- Cardiovascular MRI is becoming more popular because it produces better pictures than other methods
n many cases, there’s nothing you can do to prevent congenital heart disease. But there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your baby.
- Tell your healthcare provider if you’re pregnant before taking any medicines.
- Ask your healthcare provider what types of chemicals or substances could be harmful to your baby.
- If you have diabetes or gestational diabetes, get your blood sugar under control.
- Get a blood test early in your pregnancy to see if you are immune to rubella. If you’re not, get vaccinated right after delivery.
The treatment depends on the heart problem and how severe it is. Some people don’t need any treatment. Other heart problems need treatment with medicine, procedures, or surgery. Your healthcare provider will talk to you about your treatment options, or the treatment options for your child.
Many babies with heart disease need medicine to make their heart stronger or to prevent other problems. It’s very important to give the medicine exactly as your healthcare provider tells you.
Some babies need to have surgery. Some heart problems must be fixed as soon as the baby is born. Other problems can wait until the child is older. Sometimes the repair takes more than one operation. After surgery, your baby will probably stay in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for a few days. There the healthcare team can keep a close watch. Many children are back to normal just a few days after heart surgery.
Living with congenital heart disease
Babies with heart disease may get tired easily while they’re feeding. Try giving smaller amounts of milk at one time. Then feed your baby more often. They may need more food because a heart defect makes the heart work harder. This makes your baby burn more calories—just like you burn more calories when you exercise
Can congenital heart disease cause other problems?
Some people who have congenital heart problems are at a higher risk for other heart problems, including:
- Bacterial endocarditis: An infection of the heart valves or the lining of the heart chambers
- Pulmonary hypertension: An increase in the blood pressure going to the lungs.
- Arrhythmia: A heart beat that is too fast or too slow, or skips a beat
- Congestive heart failure: A heart that doesn’t pump blood as well as it should, causing fluid to build up in the lungs or body
Even if the problem is fixed, your child may need to be monitored for heart problems for the rest of their life.
Coping with your child’s heart problem
Caring for a baby or child with a heart problem can be emotional and stressful. You need all the information and support you can get. Connect with parents of other children with a heart problem. They understand what you’re going through and can share coping skills. Your child’s healthcare provider can help connect you with support groups. Talk to a counselor if you’re having trouble coping. They can help you reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation Website at: