What are congenital heart defects?
“Congenital heart defects” means that a problem with the structure of the heart or blood vessels is present at birth.
In fact, this can affect the pulmonary artery, the aorta, or heart valves.
One in 100 children are born with congenital heart defects, but not all cases will be diagnosed at birth.
They may only appear later in childhood during puberty or even middle age.
Congenital heart defects can affect either side (right and left) of the heart.
The heart’s four chambers (the right and left atria and the right and left ventricles) or any of the smaller blood vessels that lead into and out of the heart.
This type of heart disease is the most common type of birth defect.
What are the different types of congenital heart defects?
There are many different types of congenital heart defects.
But here are the 6 most common types of congenital heart defects, according to medical experts.
1. Ventricular septal defect (VSD)
The ventricular septal defect occurs when there is a hole between the lower chambers of the heart, known as the ventricles.
Normally, there is a dividing wall called the septum between the two ventricles.
If this wall isn’t closed completely, it forms a ventricular septal defect.
This is the most common type of congenital heart defect, affecting about 1 in 4 births worldwide.
2. Atrial septal defect (ASD)
Atrial septal defect (ASD) is a hole in the wall (septum) between the heart’s upper chambers (the atria).
Approximately 10 – 15% of all congenital heart defects are atrial septal defects.
Also, ASD is the most common form of CHD that goes undetected during childhood.
3. Tetralogy of Fallot (ToF)
Tetralogy of Fallot is the second most common type of congenital heart disease, affecting around 1 in 2,500 babies.
ToF consists of four separate defects:
- A hole between the right and left ventricle
- Thickening or narrowing of the right ventricle.
- Displacement of the tendon (a cord-like structure) that attaches the muscles of the right ventricle to the wall of the chest.
- An opening between the pulmonary artery and aorta.
The first three changes listed above cause blood that should flow through the lungs to bypass them instead.
The fourth abnormality causes blood from the left ventricle to flow through the hole into the aorta.
4. Coarctation of the aorta (CoA)
Coarctation of the aorta is when the wall of the aorta, the main artery that transports oxygen-rich blood from the heart, is narrowed.
This narrow section causes blood vessels to be pinched off and puts extra pressure on the arteries that supply the lower body.
This can cause high blood pressure in the lower part of the body and low blood pressure in the upper body.
5. Bicuspid aortic valve (BAV)
The bicuspid aortic valve (BAV) is when there are only two small flaps in the heart’s main artery, the aorta.
It may cause a narrowed, thickened, or leaky aortic valve, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood.
It also increases the risk of developing an aortic aneurysm, which is where part of the aorta balloons out and may eventually burst.
6. Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)
Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) is when the blood vessel connecting the heart and aorta, known as a ductus arteriosus, fails to close after birth.
All babies are born with ductus arteriosus, but it usually closes on its own within the first few days or weeks after birth.
But if PDA fails to close naturally, it can cause high blood pressure in the lungs and heart, as well as low oxygen levels in the bloodstream.
What causes congenital heart defects?
In most cases, doctors are still not sure what causes most congenital heart defects.
But there are certain factors that may increase the likelihood of a baby being born with these conditions.
For example, women who smoke during pregnancy, take certain medications, have uncontrolled high blood pressure during pregnancy, or have poorly controlled diabetes in the early weeks of pregnancy appear to increase the risk of having a child with certain heart problems.
Is congenital heart disease hereditary?
Genetic factors are also believed to play a role in many cases.
This means as a congenital heart defect may run in the family.
How can congenital heart defect symptoms be recognized?
The symptoms will vary depending on the type of congenital heart defect.
Many infants have no symptoms at first, and the heart defect is detected during a routine screening.
However, some infants and children with congenital heart defects may:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Cough or wheeze
- Poor feeding and failure to gain
- Blue tint to lips and skin (cyanosis)
- Develop a persistent, unexplained fever
How are congenital heart defects diagnosed?
To diagnose a congenital heart defect, your doctor will do a complete medical history and physical examination.
Your doctor may also recommend other tests, such as an echocardiogram (ultrasound scan), electrocardiogram (ECG), or cardiac catheterization.
What are the treatments for congenital heart defects?
In many cases, a congenital heart defect will not cause any problems and may go unnoticed for years.
If your child has an increased risk of developing certain complications or becomes ill because of their congenital heart condition, your doctor may recommend treatment.
However, treatment can include medication, surgery, and sometimes heart transplant.
In some cases, doctors will use cardiac catheterization to correct the problem.
During this procedure, a catheter is inserted into a blood vessel (arteries and veins) in the groin and neck.
This allows for better images of the heart and blood vessels, so your doctor can see exactly where the defect is located and how severe it is.
Then, your doctor will be able to guide the catheter through the blood vessel until it reaches the heart.
Once there, tiny instruments can be inserted through the other end of the catheter to repair or close the hole.
What is involved in follow-up care?
Follow-up appointments with your doctor will be very important for you and your child.
Your doctor will monitor your child’s progress and any complications, as well as make sure that he or she is getting appropriate treatment.
What is the outlook for children with congenital heart defects?
Most children with congenital heart defects will live full and active lives without any limitations.
Even those who need treatment can do well and go on to attend school and participate in normal activities like sports at a later stage.
Is it possible to prevent congenital heart defects?
Currently, there is no way to prevent most types of congenital heart defects.
However, if there are certain risk factors involved in your pregnancy, your doctor may recommend that you take extra steps to reduce the chances of having a child with a congenital heart defect.
For example, your doctor may recommend that you:
- Eat a healthy diet
- Take certain medications as prescribed
- Don’t drink
- Quit smoking and stay away from second-hand smoke
- Keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.
Is congenital heart disease life-threatening?
In most cases, a congenital heart defect will not cause life-threatening problems.
However, those who have serious defects may need treatment as soon as possible to avoid complications.
- Heart failure, which means the heart is working too hard or not at all
- An abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia)
- Damage to other organs, such as the kidneys
- Blood clots, which can lead to a stroke or heart attack
- Developing an infection in the blood (sepsis), which can be life-threatening
Congenital heart defects are defects that are present at birth (congenital).
They often go undiagnosed because they may not cause complications, or the symptoms may be mild.
However, some infants and children with congenital heart defects may develop complications.
Treatment often includes medication, surgery, and monitoring.
The outlook for infants and children with congenital heart defects is positive.
In most cases, they live normal lives without limitations and without further complications.
Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s health.