What is congenital heart disease?
A congenital heart defect is a problem with the structure of the heart. It is present at birth. Congenital heart disease can describe a number of different problems affecting the heart. It is the most common type of birth defect. CHD causes more deaths in the first year of life than any other birth defects.
Although these can be very serious conditions, many can be treated with surgery. In some cases, doctors can find these problems during pregnancy. You might not get symptoms until adulthood, or you may not get any at all.
How common is congenital heart disease?
Congenital heart disease can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of congenital heart disease?
A congenital heart defect is often detected during a pregnancy ultrasound. If your doctor hears an abnormal heartbeat, for instance, they may further investigate the issue by performing certain tests. These may include an echocardiogram, a chest X-ray, or an MRI scan. If a diagnosis is made, your doctor will make sure the appropriate specialists are available during delivery.
In some cases, the symptoms of a congenital heart defect may not appear until shortly after birth. Newborns with heart defects may experience:
- Bluish lips, skin, fingers, and toes;
- Breathlessness or trouble breathing;
- Feeding difficulties;
- Low birth weight;
- Chest pain;
- Delayed growth.
In other cases, the symptoms of a congenital heart defect may not appear until many years after birth. Once symptoms do develop, they may include:
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If your babies have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes congenital heart disease?
Congenital heart disease occurs as a result of an early developmental problem in the heart’s structure. The defect typically interferes with the normal flow of blood through the heart, which may affect breathing. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why the heart fails to develop correctly. However, there are certain risk factors that families can watch out for.
There are many risk factors for congenital heart disease, such as:
- The heart defect may run in families.
- Problems with genes or chromosomes in the child, such as Down syndrome.
- Taking certain prescription drugs during pregnancy puts a child at a higher risk for a heart defect.
- Using alcohol or illegal drugs during pregnancy can increase a child’s risk of having a heart defect.
- Mothers who had a viral infection during the first trimester of pregnancy are more likely to give birth to a child with a heart defect.
- Increased blood sugar levels, such as occurs with diabetes, may affect childhood development.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is congenital heart disease diagnosed?
Doctors may find some problems before a baby is born. Other problems may be found in infants, kids, or adults. The doctor listens to your heartbeat to check your health. If she hears an unusual sound or heart murmur, she might order more tests, such as:
- Echocardiogram: A type of ultrasound that takes pictures of your heart. There are different kinds, so ask your doctor what you can expect.
- Cardiac catheterization: A doctor guides a very thin, flexible tube (called a catheter) through a blood vessel in your arm or leg to reach your heart. She puts dye through the catheter and then uses X-ray videos to see inside your heart.
- Chest X-ray: These can reveal signs of heart failure.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): This measures the heart’s electrical activity.
- MRI : You get a scan that lets doctors see the heart’s structure.
How is congenital heart disease treated?
The treatment for a congenital heart defect depends on the type and severity of the defect. Some babies have mild heart defects that heal on their own with time. Others may have severe defects that require extensive treatment. In these cases, treatment may include the following:
- Medications: There are various medications that can help the heart work more efficiently. Some can also be used to prevent blood clots from forming or to control an irregular heartbeat.
- Implantable Heart Devices: Some of the complications associated with congenital heart defects can be prevented with the use of certain devices, including pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs). A pacemaker can help regulate an abnormal heart rate, and an ICD may correct life-threatening irregular heartbeats.
- Catheter Procedures: Catheterization techniques allow doctors to repair certain congenital heart defects without surgically opening the chest and heart. During these procedures, the doctor will insert a thin tube into a vein in the leg and guide it up to the heart. Once the catheter is in the correct position, the doctor will use small tools threaded through the catheter to correct the defect.
- Open-Heart Surgery: This type of surgery may be needed if catheter procedures aren’t enough to repair a congenital heart defect. A surgeon may perform open-heart surgery to close holes in the heart, repair heart valves, or widen blood vessels.
- Heart Transplant: In the rare cases in which a congenital heart defect is too complex to fix, a heart transplant may be needed. During this procedure, the child’s heart is replaced with a healthy heart from a donor.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage congenital heart disease?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with congenital heart disease:
- If you’re planning on becoming pregnant, talk to your doctor about any prescription or over-the-counter medications you’re taking.
- If you have diabetes, make sure your blood sugar levels are under control before becoming pregnant. It’s also important to work with your doctor to manage the disease while pregnant.
- If you weren’t vaccinated against rubella, or German measles, avoid exposure to the disease and speak with your doctor about prevention options.
- If you have a family history of congenital heart defects, ask your doctor about genetic screening. Certain genes may contribute to abnormal heart development.
- Avoid drinking alcohol and using illegal drugs during pregnancy.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: December 7, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017
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Congenital Heart Defects. https://medlineplus.gov/congenitalheartdefects.html. Accessed November 6, 2016
Congenital heart disease. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Congenital-heart-disease/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed November 6, 2016
Congenital Heart Disease. http://www.healthline.com/health/congenital-heart-disease#Overview1. Accessed November 6, 2016