Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart disease or congenital heart defect refers to a problem or abnormality with the heart’s structure that has existed since birth. It can change the way blood flows through the heart. The problem can affect the heart’s walls, heart valves, and blood vessels.

There are multiple types of congenital heart defects, ranging from simple conditions without symptoms to complex life-threatening symptoms. Medical advances in diagnosis and treatment have enabled babies with congenital heart disease to survive into adulthood

Symptoms of Congenital Heart Disease

Many cases of congenital heart disease are diagnosed before a baby is born in an ultrasound scan during pregnancy, though it is not always possible to detect congenital heart defects in this manner.

Newborn children with heart defects may experience symptoms such as:

  • Low birth weight.
  • Feeding difficulties
  • Bluish lips, skin, fingers, and toes
  • Breathlessness or trouble breathing.
  • Chest pain
  • Delayed growth

As the child grows, other symptoms may develop, sometimes many years after birth. These may include rapid breathing, dizziness, fainting, fatigue, swelling of the legs, tummy, or around the eyes, abnormal heart rhythms, etc.

Causes of Congenital Heart Disease

Early developmental problems in the heart’s structure can cause congenital heart disease. This interferes with the normal flow of blood through the heart and may affect breathing. Heart defects may also exist genetically in families. Use of alcohol or tobacco during pregnancy can increase the risk of the child having a heart defect.

It is possible that mothers who had a viral infection during the first trimester of pregnancy may give birth to a child with a heart defect. Maternal age, some illnesses, medicines, increased blood sugar levels, occurring with diabetes, high blood pressure, and a family history of congenital heart defects) may also affect the childhood development of the heart.

Treatment of Congenital Heart Disease

The treatment for a congenital heart defect depends on the severity and type of the defect. Some cases of mild heart defects can heal on their own with time. On the other hand, severe defects require extensive treatment. Treatment can include the following:

  • Implantable Heart Devices: Certain devices, such as pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs), can prevent some of the complications associated with congenital heart defects. A pacemaker helps to regulate an abnormal heart rate, while an ICD corrects life-threatening irregular heartbeats.
  • Catheter Procedures: Doctors can repair certain congenital heart defects without surgically opening the chest and heart using catheterization techniques. In this, a thin tube is inserted into a vein in the leg and guided up to the heart. The doctor then uses small tools threaded through the catheter to correct the defect.
  • Open-Heart Surgery:Open-heart surgery may be required if catheter procedures are not enough or possible to repair a congenital heart defect. Surgery is performed by the doctor to close holes in the heart, repair heart valves, widen blood vessels, or correct the connections of the heart chambers with large arteries.
  • Heart Transplant:In some rare cases where a congenital heart defect is too complex, a heart transplant may be needed. In this procedure, the defective heart is replaced with a healthy heart from a donor.
  • Heart Lung Transplant:For some patients with congenital heart disease where the lungs have also become affected, a combined heart and lung transplant is the treatment.