What Is Congenital Heart Disease?
Congenital heart disease, also called congenital heart defect, is a birth-related heart defect. It may affect:
- the heart valves
- the heart walls
- the blood vessels
Different kinds of congenital heart defects exist. They may differ from simple conditions that do not even have symptoms to complex problems leading to serious life-threatening symptoms.
As per the. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are currently one million adults and one million children in the U.S. living with congenital heart disease. The treatment and follow-up of defects has improved dramatically in recent decades, This means that almost all children with heart disease live to adulthood. Some require lifelong care for their heart condition. However, many continue to have a normal, productive life in spite of having this defect.(1)
Types of Congenital Heart Disease
While there are several types of congenital heart disease, they may be classified into three major groups:
- In heart valve abnormalities, the valves inside the heart that control blood flow can close or leak. This affects the ability of the heart to pump blood accurately.
- In faults of the heart wall, the natural walls that exist between the left and right sides and the upper and lower chambers of the heart may not develop correctly, that leads to blood reflux in the heart or accumulate in areas where it does not belong. This puts pressure on the heart to work harder, which can lead to hypertension.
- In abnormal blood vessels, arteries and veins that carry blood to the heart and body may not work properly. This may decrease or block blood flow, causing a variety of health complications.(2)
Cyanotic and Acyanotic Congenital Heart Disease
Many physicians classify congenital heart defects as cyanotic congenital heart defects or acyanotic congenital heart defects. In either case, the heart will not pump blood as it should. The main difference is that cyanotic congenital heart defects result in low levels of oxygen in the blood, and acyanotic congenital heart defects do not.
Infants with reduced oxygen levels can experience shortness of breath and a bluish tinge on their skin. Babies with sufficient oxygen in their bloodstream do not show these symptoms, but they may still develop complications later in life, such as hypertension.
What Are the Symptoms of Congenital Heart Disease?
A congenital heart defect is generally dislocated during a pregnant women ultrasound. If your doctor hears an abnormal heart sound, for example, he or she can take a closer look at the problem by doing some tests. It may be an echocardiogram, chest X-ray or MRI. If you are diagnosed, your doctor will ensure that the right specialists are available during childbirth.
In some cases, the symptoms of congenital heart disease may not be noticeable until soon after birth. Infants with heart problems may have:
- blue tint on the skin, fingers, and toes
- shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- feeding difficulties
- low birth weight
- swelling on the legs, abdomen or around the eyes.
- chest pain
- delayed growth
In some cases, Symptoms of congenital heart disease may not become apparent until several years after birth. Once symptoms occur, these can include:
- abnormal heartbeat
- difficulty breathing
What Causes Congenital Heart Disease?
Congenital heart disease occurs because of a problem with early development in heart structure. The defect mainly interferes with the normal circulation of blood in the heart, which can affect breathing. But researchers do not know exactly why the heart does not develop properly. The possible causes are:
- Heart problems can occur in families.
- The use of certain prescription medications during pregnancy increases the risk of developing heart disease.
- Over-use of alcohol or illegal drugs during pregnancy may also increase the risk that a child may have heart disease.
- Mothers who developed a viral infection in the first trimester of pregnancy are at a higher risk of giving birth to a child with heart disease.
- Hyperglycemia, like diabetes, can influence a child’s development.
How Is Congenital Heart Disease Treated?
Treating congenital heart disease depends on the type and severity of heart disease. Some children have small heart defects that heal by themselves over time. Some may have serious defects that require comprehensive treatment. In such cases, treatment may involve:
There are a number of drugs that can help the heart function more effectively. Some may also be used to prevent blood clots from forming or to monitor an abnormal heart rate.
Implantable Heart Devices
Some of the complications associated with congenital heart defects may be avoided by the use of some devices, These include pacemakers and implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs).
A pacemaker may be helpful in controlling an abnormal heart rate, and An ICD can heal life-threatening irregular heart beats.
Catheterization techniques assist physicians in repairing certain congenital heart abnormalities without surgically opening the chest and heart. During this process, the physician will insert a slim tube into a vein in the leg and move it towards the heart. When the catheter is in the right position, the physician uses small threaded tools through the catheter to fix the defect.
This type of surgery may be necessary if the catheter interventions are unable to correct congenital heart disease. An open-heart surgeon can perform open-heart surgery to close holes in the heart, repair heart valves or expand blood vessels.
In the few cases where a congenital heart defect is too complex to correct, a heart transplant may be needed. As part of this procedure, the child’s heart is replaced with a healthy heart from an appropriate donor.
Congenital Heart Disease in Adults
Depending on the abnormality, diagnosis and treatment can start immediately after birth, during childhood or into adulthood. Certain abnormalities cause no symptoms until the child reaches adulthood, so diagnosis and treatment may be delayed. In such cases, the symptoms of newly discovered congenital heart disease may be:
Treating congenital heart disease in adults may also vary depending on the severity of the heart disease. Some people may only need to keep a close watch on their condition, and others may need medication and surgeries.
In some cases, abnormalities that may have been dealt with in childhood may present symptoms as adults. The initial repair may not be effective anymore or the initial fault may have worsened over time. Scar tissue that has developed around the original repair can also end up leading to certain issues, such as cardiac arrhythmias.
No matter your situation, it is essential to continue to consult your physician for follow-up. Treatment may not cure your health, But it might help you keep your life active and normal. It will also reduce the risk of serious complications, such as heart disease, heart failure and stroke.
How Can Congenital Heart Disease Be Prevented?
Women who are pregnant or want to be concise may take some precautions to reduce their risk of childbirth with congenital heart deformity:
- If you plan to be concise, talk to your doctor about any prescription or non-prescription drugs you are taking.
- If you have diabetes, ensure that your blood sugar levels are below normal before you become pregnant. It is also necessary to work with your physician to manage the illness during your pregnancy.
- If you weren’t immunized against some viruses like rubella, or German measles, avoid being exposed to illness and discuss prevention options with your doctor.
- If you have a family history of birth defects, find out from your doctor about genetic testing. There are genes that may contribute to abnormal cardiac development.
- Avoid or limit drinking and use illegal drugs while pregnant.