The term congenital heart defects (CHD) refers to any problems with the structure or function of the heart that impacts its overall performance. In India, due to the fact that various births occur within homes without the supervision of skilled doctors, there is mixed data on congenital heart defects. However, most studies settle on a figure within the range of 8-10 per 1000 live births. Due to the relative obscurity of CHD, cardiac care for babies is still in its infancy. In fact, 58% of cases of CHD are diagnosed when the child is within the age group of 0-5. Thus, it is important for parents to be aware of the various congenital heart defects symptoms and treatments, so that they can aid with an early diagnosis.
What are the Various Types of Congenital Heart Defects?
Congenital heart defects types can be broadly categorized into three main segments:
- Defects in the heart valves: When there are defects present in the heart valves, they can cause leakage or problems with the blood flow. They can also make the blood flow stop.
- Defects in the heart walls: The heart contains walls that divide its different chambers. Patients can be born with structural defects in these walls that make the blood in the heart back up or build up in chambers where it should not be. Such defects also add the pressure on the heart, which can lead to high blood pressure.
- Defects in the blood vessels: If the blood vessels that are responsible for taking blood to and away from the heart do not work correctly, they can cause a host of health conditions.
Furthermore, it is important to note that congenital heart defects types are also classified as cyanotic or acyanotic congenital heart defects. The term cyanotic congenital heart defects is use to describe conditions that cause low oxygen in the blood. Acyanotic congenital heart defects, on the other hand, do not do so.
What are the Congenital Heart Defects Symptoms?
Congenital heart defects symptoms sometimes show themselves as irregular heartbeat, which is something that can be picked up during an ultrasound by the doctor. In such cases, doctors order additional tests to confirm the same and to determine a course of action to preserve the baby’s health. However, many times, congenital heart defects symptoms only present themselves after the baby is born. Parents need to be extremely vigilant about the following:
- Bluish tint on the toes, fingers, skin and lips
- Breathlessness or trouble breathing
- Low birth weight
- Feeding difficulties
- Delayed growth
- Chest pains
Conversely, congenital heart defects symptoms may not present themselves until the child grows into an adult. In that case, the symptoms are slightly different from what you may see in babies. Some of them are:
- Trouble breathing
- Abnormal heart rhythms
What are the Congenital Heart Defects Treatments to Know About?
Congenital heart defects treatments vary with the patient’s history and type of CHD. However, broadly, doctors use any of the following types of treatments in order to combat the problem:
Doctors may prescribe medicines to prevent blood clots if that is a danger for the patient. They may also prescribe blood thinners, blood pressure medicines, and medicines for regulating the heartbeat.
Certain implants like pacemakers are used to prevent any cardiovascular complications that can arise out of the CHD. Implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD) are also used for the same.
Catheterization is one of the many congenital heart defects treatments that allows doctors to correct the defects. What sets them apart from other treatments is the fact that they do not require any open heart surgery. Doctors make small incisions to insert a catheter and then use small instruments through it to correct the defects.
Open Heart Surgery:
If the defect cannot be corrected through medicines or implants, the doctor may perform an open heart surgery. This type of treatment is generally used to repair holes in the heart, widen blood vessels or repair defects in the heart walls.
When none of these treatments work or bring about the desired results, the doctor may recommend a heart transplant. During this procedure, the child’s heart is replaced with a much healthier heart taken from an organ donor.
Are There Ways to Prevent Congenital Heart Defects?
Mothers can exercise caution to help prevent CHD in babies. Some of the steps that they can take to prevent the same include the following:
- Speaking to the doctor about any medications that the patient is taking is always a good move, especially if the patient is considering getting pregnant in the near future.
- Diabetic women must control their glycaemic index while planning their pregnancy. It is also essential to take into account gestational diabetes and take steps to control and manage the same.
- Not drinking alcohol and smoking during the duration of the pregnancy is the good way to prevent harm to the child.
- Women with family histories of CHD should speak to their OBGYN about screening and prevention.
- Avoid exposure to certain diseases like German measles and rubella.
Though certain risk factors for congenital heart disease exist, like family history and suffering from a viral infection during the pregnancy’s first trimester, there’s no way to know for certain that your baby will be born healthy. Of course, you must take every possible precaution to prevent any birth defects. However, ultimately, sometimes birth defects occur due to no fault of anyone and parents must find ways to cope with the same. Ensure that your baby is healthy by taking all your prenatal vitamins, visiting the OBGYN regularly, and avoiding taxing tasks.
As congenital heart defects run in the family, you must speak to your doctor about them before you plan your pregnancy. You can learn about prevention and spotting signs of CHD in children by doing so.