Congenital heart defects are heart abnormalities present at birth. This is a problem that occurs as the baby’s heart is developing during pregnancy even before a baby is born.
A baby’s heart begins developing at conception but forms completely by eight weeks into pregnancy. Congenital heart defects happen during the first 8 weeks of the baby’s development. For the heart to form correctly, it must undergo specific steps. Congenital heart defects are often a result of one of these steps not happening when required. For instance, a hole may be left where a dividing wall had to be formed, or a single blood vessel where two should have developed.
The American Heart Association (AHA) points out that individuals often use the terms “defect” and “disease” interchangeably in this context. But the AHA says that “defect” is the more accurate term to use.
General Signs of Congenital Heart Diseases
Serious congenital heart defects become evident either soon after birth or within the first few months of their life. Signs and symptoms could include the following:
Less serious congenital heart defects may not even be diagnosed until later in childhood as a child may not have noticeable signs. If signs and symptoms are evident in older children, they may include some of the following:
However, if you notice the abovementioned signs as a child or in your children, it is essential to see a paediatric cardiologist immediately.
Congenital Heart Defect in Adulthood
Children with CHD may undergo surgeries during their childhood to repair a heart defect. In most cases, the heart usually works normally after the procedure. However, some individuals may have a problem when they grow old. If there is scar tissue from a previous surgery in the heart, this can increase the risk of problems.
The individual may experience:
There are at least 18 types of congenital heart defects. Most of these affect the valves, blood vessels, or walls of your heart. Some of the common ones are as follows:
Hole in the Heart (Septal Defect)
This means you are born with a septum or hole in the wall that separates the left and right sides of the heart. The hole permits blood from the two sides to blend.
Atrial Septal Defect (ASD)
An ASD is a hole in the wall in the upper chambers or between the right and left atria of the heart. This allows blood from the left atrium to mix with that from the right atrium.
Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD)
A VSD is a hole in that part of the septum which separates the heart’s ventricles or lower chambers. If you have a VSD, blood is pumped back to the lungs instead of the body.
Tetralogy of Fallot
Sometimes, having holes in the heart or septal defects may lead to congenital heart problems such as the tetralogy of Fallot, which is a combination of four defects, including the following:
Treatment for Congenital Heart Defects
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly one in four infants born with a CHD require surgery during their first year. In some cases, if the defect is small, it won’t need treatment. In other cases, symptoms may also improve without treatment. If an individual requires surgery, a surgeon may:
The procedure will depend on the type of defect the person has. Options include the following:
Living with a Congenital Heart Defect
People who live with CHD need to take some precautions that will help reduce the risk of complications. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) recommends the following:
People should also be aware of the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack so that they can get help if one occurs. Some of these include the following:
If you experience the abovementioned symptoms, it is essential to seek immediate medical help.
Future Advancements for Congenital Heart Disease Patients
Just a few decades ago, being diagnosed with a CHD was fatal to most individuals and their families, especially in the absence of an accurate diagnosis. A CHD can still be life-threatening, however, medical advances over the last 70 years indicate that the chances of survival are significantly higher today than what they were in the past.
Today, doctors expect that about 96% of individuals who are diagnosed with CHD and receive hospital treatment will survive. Future options for CHD treatment may include substituting prostheses with bio-engineered tissues and fixing problems in the developing heart of a child before he/she is born.
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