Heart can rightfully be a synonym for not just a healthy life but life in itself. Hence if the heart faces a problem like a congenital heart defect, life can be a tricky treat, especially during childhood.
What are Congenital Heart Defects?
Congenital heart defect (CHD) is a manner of saying that an individual suffers from heart issues from the time s/he was born. It is an anomaly of the heart when the problem lies in the structure of the heart and is present at birth itself.
Kids who have a heart defect are usually born with it. While CHD certainly requires care and treatment, early detection is the key to this disease. Also, one must note that not everyone with CHD needs treatment. Some are rather simple, while some are more complex. Sometimes, only a visit to a cardiologist and constant observation is also enough. In some serious cases though, surgery or a cardiac catheterization might be required to lessen the effects of the heart defect, or to overall repair the defect. CHD can occur in various forms and certain common conditions that are likely to need only medical treatment in children include small holes in the heart, minor abnormalities of the valves etc. If CHD is present in a very serious form, it generally becomes evident soon after birth or during the initial few months.
Some signs and symptoms of congenital heart defects:
- Skin colour turning pale grey or blue (cyanosis)
- Fast breathing
- Swollen legs, abdomen or areas around the eyes
- Shortness of breath especially during feedings, leading to poor weight gain.
However, if CHD is present in a comparatively less serious form, it may end up not being diagnosed until later in childhood, as the child is not likely to have any noticeable signs of the defect.
Certain signs and symptoms can be observed in older children:
- Getting short of breath during exercise or activities quite easily
- Feeling fatigued and tired during exercise or activity
- Passing out during physical workout
- Having swollen hands, ankles or feet
If any of the above symptoms are observed, s/he should be taken to a paediatric cardiologist at the earliest to be better aware of the problem. Even when treated, the defect in childhood can develop certain further conditions later, hence making additional medical treatment all the more necessary. Even after the treatment, children might be required to regularly visit the paediatric cardiologist and stay under constant observation. Some physical activities are likely to get restricted for the child even after the defect might be treated, for which again the doctor’s consultancy is required. In case of severe concerns, the child can be taken to either a paediatric cardiologist or a paediatric heart surgeon. CHD is a result of problems during early developments in the child’s heart.
Following are some factors which can impact the heart’s development in a child:
- The occurrence of rubella (German measles), while a woman is pregnant, can lead to problems in the baby’s heart development.
- Uncontrolled diabetes before conceiving or during pregnancy also affects the heart’s development.
- Some of the medications consumed can also result in birth defects like CHD.
- Smoking or taking in alcohol also increases the possibility of CHD.
- It can sometimes also be a result of heredity.
There might be a recurrence risk of congenital heart disease in subsequent pregnancies. As the exact reason for CHD is not known, it might not necessarily be possible to prevent it but one can still take certain precautions. Since it is a birth defect in a child, the precautions are mostly for pregnant mothers to undertake all necessary tests and medications to avoid the above mentioned risks.
Dr. Sejal Shah (Senior Consultant - Paediatric Cardiology)
Columbia Asia Hospital Sarjapur Road