Congenital Heart Defects and Treatment Options

Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are structural issues with the heart that are present when a baby is born. These defects occur when the heart is not fully formed in the womb. They impact normal blood flow, either slowing it down, changing its direction or blocking it completely. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, CHDs are the most common type of birth defect. Fortunately, medical and technological advances have increased the treatment options and life expectancy for children born with CHDs.

Types of Congenital Heart Diseases

There are many types of CHDs, ranging from mild to severe. No treatment is needed for some, while others require treatment immediately after birth.

The CDC advises that 1 in 4 babies with heart defects are born with critical CHDs. These CHDs require surgery or treatment in the first year of life.

The more common types of CHD include:

  • Atrial septal defect
  • Coarctation of the aorta
  • Double-outlet right ventricle
  • Ebstein anomaly
  • Hypoplastic left heart syndrome
  • Interrupted aortic arch
  • Pulmonary atresia
  • Single ventricle
  • Tetralogy of Fallot
  • Truncus arteriosus
  • Ventricular septal defect

Causes of Congenital Heart Disease

The exact causes of most cases of CHD are relatively unknown. However, certain risk factors seem to contribute.

Possible risk factors for CHD noted by the CDC include:

  • Genetics
  • Changes in the child’s DNA, genes or chromosomes
  • Environmental agents
  • Mother’s medication drug use during pregnancy
  • Mother’s smoking during pregnancy
  • Mother’s diet during pregnancy
  • Mother’s pre-existing conditions, like diabetes or obesity

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, talk to your doctor today about ways to prevent CHDs in your child.

Congenital Heart Disease Diagnosis

Some CHDs can be detected during pregnancy with a specific ultrasound designed to test the health of the fetus’s heart. This ultrasound is called a fetal echocardiogram. Other cases are not detected until after the baby is born, while others may not be found until childhood or adulthood.

Common tests used to diagnose CHD include:

  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Chest X-ray
  • Echocardiography
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Genetic testing

Symptoms of Congenital Heart Disease may be different for newborns and adults. They also vary based on the type and severity of the defect. Many have few or no symptoms, and some are not diagnosed until children are older.

Some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Cyanosis (a bluish tint to the skin, lips, and fingernails)
  • Fatigue
  • Heart murmurs
  • Poor blood circulation
  • Rapid breathing
  • Tiredness when feeding

Congenital Heart Disease Treatment

With advanced and ever-evolving medical care and technology, there are many more options to treat Congenital Heart Disease. Infants born with CHDs are living longer lives with fewer health problems and complications.

Recommended treatment for Congenital Heart Disease is based on a variety of factors. A physician will look at the type of congenital heart defect, severity, child’s age and overall health. These factors will help them to determine the best course of action.

Some CHDs require no treatment or can be managed by medication. Others require surgery or even heart transplants.

Surgeries that are sometimes needed include:

  • Cardiac catheterization. A thin, flexible tube called a catheter is threaded through the blood vessels into the heart. The surgeon can then repair the problem or take measurements and perform tests. The catheter can also be used to open up blood vessels or heart valves that are narrowed due to stenosis.
  • Heart transplant. If a child has a severe defect that can’t be repaired through surgery, they may need a transplant. They may also need one if they are dependent on a ventilator or have severe symptoms of heart failure.
  • Ventricular assist device. This is a mechanical pump that is implanted to assist a weakened heart rate and improve blood flow.

It is important to recognize that just because it is possible to treat congenital heart disease, it cannot always be cured. Even after successful surgeries when the heart has been repaired, many people born with CHDs live with it their whole lives.

Some children with CHDs may be able to live independent lives with healthy hearts. However, depending on the severity and type of heart defect, others risk developing long-term disabilities or heart problems. These issues include irregular heartbeat, increased risk of congestive heart failure or heart attack and general weakness in the heart.

People living with CHDs should meet with their doctor regularly to create a management plan, including physical activity and dietary recommendations. These steps can help reduce blood pressure and other factors that contribute to overall heart health.