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September 29 is World Heart Day. On this occasion, let us take a look at congenital heart disease. This is a very common birth defect. According to estimates, 1 in 1,000 new born children are born with this condition every year.
Congenital heart disease is an abnormality that develops in the womb. It may be an anomaly in the heart walls, valves or blood vessels. It can range from simple defects to life-threatening conditions. Children with this condition have to undergo intense treatment, which helps them to live long, meaningful lives well into adulthood. But some children with severe defects need care throughout their lives.
As mentioned earlier, congenital heart defects may be either in the walls, valves or blood vessels of the heart. When there is a block in the valves that direct blood flow, it prevents the heart from pumping blood properly. Sometimes, the walls between the left and right sides of the heart and the upper and lower chambers may not develop fully. This causes blood to push back into the heart or to accumulate in places where it doesn't belong. This may cause high blood pressure. When there is any defect in the blood vessels, the arteries and veins that facilitate the flow of blood to and from the heart may be defective. This may obstruct blood flow.
However, on this World Heart Day, it is important to know that there are many types of congenital heart diseases that can arise from these defects. But it can broadly be classified as cyanotic and acyanotic congenital heart disease. The difference between the two is that, in the former, a child experiences low levels of oxygen in blood. Both these conditions can cause complications later on in life.
You can find out about your child's condition when you are pregnant. All it requires is a routine ultrasound. Your doctor will look out for abnormal heartbeat. If required, you may have to go in for an echocardiogram, a chest X-ray or an MRI scan. If any defect is suspected, your doctor will take all necessary precautions to ensure a safe delivery.
Symptoms of congenital heart diseases are usually noticeable immediately after birth. A baby may exhibit blue- tinged lips, skin, fingers and toes. Your child may have difficulties in feeding and breathing. Birth weight may be low, and growth may be stunted. Sometimes, symptoms appear years after birth. This include difficulty in breathing, oedema, fainting spells, dizziness, abnormal heart beat and abnormal fatigue.
Experts are divided as to what causes congenital heart diseases. But they suspect that it may be due to an early developmental problem in the heart's structure. This could be due genes. The risks also go up if the mother takes certain prescription drugs during pregnancy. Alcohol or drugs abuse during pregnancy and a high sugar levels are other risk factors.
Sometimes, if an expecting woman suffers from any viral infection during the first trimester of pregnancy, it may lead to a heart defect in her child.
A child with congenital heart disease will be at an increased risk of many health disorders, some of which are quite serious. On this World Heart Day, we reveal some complications of this condition.
Children with congenital heart disease often have problems with walking and talking. They have acute learning disabilities and co-ordination problems. They have cognition problems, a low attention span and poor impulse control. This is because of poor oxygen supply to the brain of the foetus.
Congenital heart disease increases a child's risk of respiratory tract infections and endocarditis, an infection of the lining of the heart and valves. This can lead to permanent and life-threatening heart damage. They are also prone to abnormal heart rhythms. Pulmonary hypertension, a condition of high blood pressure inside the arteries that connect the heart and lungs, is another complication as is sudden heart failure and cardiac death.
Mostly a doctor will prescribe medication for this disorder. But in serious cases, it may require invasive and semi-invasive procedures. Implantable heart devices like pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) can help control abnormal heart rates and correct life-threatening irregular heartbeats respectively. Your child may also have to undergo a catheterisation procedure. This is a semi-invasive procedure where the doctor inserts a thin tube into a vein in the leg and guide it up to the heart. Once the catheter is in place, the doctor can correct the defect by going through the catheter.
In very serious cases, you child may have to go through open-heart surgery. This option is resorted to when the catheterisation procedure fails. Here, a surgeon will perform open-heart surgery to close holes in the heart, repair valves or widen blood vessels. In very rare cases, a doctor may recommend a heart transplant. But this is the last option of all doctors.
You can easily lower the risk of with congenital heart disease with a few simple precautions. Always consult your doctor before taking any prescription drugs. Keep your blood sugar levels under control and avoid exposure to viral infections. If there is a family history of congenital heart disease, ask your doctor for advice. He will be able to guide you along the right path. And, don't smoke or drink during pregnancy. On this World Heart Day, pledge to have a healthy and safe pregnancy for better heart health of your child.
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