Congenital Heart Disease

What is congenital heart disease?

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Congenital heart disease is also known as a congenital heart defect. It is the presence of a heart abnormality when you are born. Congenital heart disease can affect a person’s heart walls, heart valves or blood vessels. You should visit a doctor, like those at Premier Medical Group, if you think that you or your child has a congenital heart defect. There are numerous types of congenital heart defects. If properly diagnosed, a doctor can tell you which type is present and the severity of one’s condition.

What causes congenital heart disease?

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Early developmental problems cause congenital heart disease. These problems occur in the heart’s structure. A defect will prevent the normal flow of blood throughout the heart. These problems can affect an infant’s ability to breathe. Researchers are still largely uncertain why hearts fail to properly develop. However, there are suspected causes for congenital heart disease. These can include:

  • Hereditary heart defects
  • Specific prescription drugs taken during pregnancy
  • Increased blood sugar levels
  • Consuming alcohol or using illegal drugs during pregnancy
  • Mothers who had a viral infection in the pregnancy’s first trimester

Speak with your doctor if any of these are applicable. The doctor may want to closely monitor your child for the presence of defects. If no detection is made prior to your child’s birth, they may recommend running tests later.

What are symptoms of congenital heart disease?

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Doctors will seek further testing if an abnormal heartbeat is present during a pregnancy ultrasound. However, symptoms are not limited to appearing prior to the delivery. Some symptoms can appear at different times for newborns. These can include:

  • Bluish lips, skin, fingers and toes
  • Difficulty breathing or breathlessness
  • Low birth weight
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Delayed growth
  • Chest pain

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should immediately consult your newborn’s doctor. Also, keep in mind that symptoms of congenital heart defects can be further delayed. Cases exist where people do not develop symptoms until many years later. These later symptoms include:

  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Swelling
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abnormal heart rhythms

How is congenital heart disease diagnosed?

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Embryos commonly develop congenital heart defects within the first six weeks of a pregnancy. During those first six weeks, your child’s heart will start to develop into a fully formed heart. As time has passed, the screening and diagnostic practices have improved. However, tests may still not detect congenital heart disease prior to birth. If symptoms exist prior to birth, doctors often detect them during a pregnancy ultrasound. Other tests can allow doctors to detect a congenital heart defect. These may include echocardiograms, an MRI scan or a chest X-ray.

What are the types of congenital heart disease?

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Doctors divide congenital heart defects into three main categories. If you or your child is experiencing symptoms, consult a medical professional or specialist. The three types of congenital heart defects and what their causes are include:

  • Heart valve defects – The heart valves are responsible for directing blood flow. If there is a defect present, the valves may close up or leak. A heart valve defect interrupts the heart’s ability to properly pump the blood.
  • Heart wall defects – Normal walls exist between the left and ride sides, as well as the upper and lower chambers of the heart. Abnormal development can result in the blood backing up into the heart. Blood can also accumulate where it does not belong. A heart wall defect places strain on the heart. The defect requires the heart to work harder and can lead to high blood pressure.
  • Blood vessel defects – The third type of defect means the arteries and veins may not function in the right way. Their functions are to carry blood to the heart and back out to the body. Defects reduce or block standard blood flow.

Doctors typically classify congenital heart disease in two ways. These classifications are cyanotic congenital heart disease or acyanotic congenital heart disease. The overlapping problem is that the heart does not pump blood in an efficient manner.

These two types are different in a significant way. Cyanotic congenital heart disease results in low levels of oxygen present in the blood. Alternatively, those with acyanotic congenital heart disease do not experience that problem.

How is congenital heart disease different from other heart diseases?

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Congenital heart disease symptoms may feel overwhelming and confusing. It is important to ask your doctor questions. Additionally, it is good to know the difference between congenital heart disease and other heart diseases. Other common heart diseases can include rheumatic heart disease and valvular heart disease. The differences between these diseases are their causes and which part of the heart is affected.

  • Rheumatic heart disease – Rheumatic fever causes the disease. The fever leads to permanent damage of the heart valves. Streptococcal infections like scarlet fever or strep throat can cause heart valve damage. For that reason, it is important to seek immediate treatment from a medical professional. If left untreated or under-treated, ongoing and worsening heart valve damage can start soon thereafter. Rheumatic fever can occur at any age. However, children ages 5- to 15-years-old are highly susceptible.
  • Valvular heart disease The disease can include congenital heart disease, rheumatic heart disease, and other heart conditions like endocarditis. If a heart’s valve has damage or is diseased, it results in valvular heart disease. Diseased heart valves typically will not properly open and close. Valvular heart disease most often affects the aortic valve.

Can you prevent congenital heart disease?

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There are ways that you can potentially prevent your child from having congenital heart disease. If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant:

  • Speak with your doctor. See if any of your over the counter or prescription medications can pose a threat.
  • Monitor your diabetes. Before becoming pregnant, work to regulate your blood sugar levels. Making an appointment with a doctor can help achieve that in a safe manner.
  • Look into your vaccination history. If you were not vaccinated against rubella or German measles, ask your physician about preventative measures.
  • Consider genetic screening. If you know congenital heart defects are hereditary, speak with your doctor about your options.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol or illegal drugs.

Are there any risk factors or groups for congenital heart disease?

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Congenital heart disease symptoms can appear in anyone. Nonetheless, certain groups do experience congenital heart defects at higher rates. Individuals who possess other genetic conditions are more likely to have congenital heart defects. These conditions can include:

  • Down syndrome – The genetic condition can result in congenital heart disease. About half of all children who have Down syndrome also have congenital heart disease.
  • Turner syndrome – The chromosomal condition only affects the female sex. A child with Turner syndrome is more likely to be born with congenital heart disease.
  • Noonan syndrome – The condition can lead to numerous symptoms. If you speak with a doctor, they will explain that these symptoms can include pulmonary valve stenosis. The condition is essentially the narrowing of the pulmonary valve opening.

How is congenital heart disease treated?

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Doctors treat congenital heart disease based on the severity of each patient’s symptoms. The treatment options may include:

  • Medications – There are different medications that can improve heart function. Doctors prescribe medication to prevent clotting. Doctors also prescribe medications that help to control an irregular heartbeat.
  • Implantable heart devices – Certain devices prevent some complications connected to congenital heart defects. One possible implantable device is a pacemaker. It regulates an abnormal heart rate. An Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator is another option. An ICD can correct dangerously irregular heartbeats.
  • Catheter procedures – Doctors can repair certain heart defects through catheterization methods. The procedures do not require a doctor to open the chest and heart. A doctor will insert a thin tube into a leg vein. Then, the doctor sends it up to the heart.
  • Open-heart surgery – A more severe treatment is done when a catheter procedure is ineffective. If your doctor decides on open-heart surgery, it may be to close holes in the heart. Surgery can also repair heart valves and widen the blood vessels.
  • Heart transplant – These cases are for rare circumstances. A transplant is for when a congenital heart defect is too severe to fix in other ways.

These procedures are not one-size-fits-all. Speak with a qualified medical professional, like the doctors at Premier Medical Group, to determine what makes the most sense for you.

What is the outlook for people living with congenital heart disease?

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The outlook has greatly improved for individuals living with congenital heart defects. Babies and children live longer and healthier lives, well into adulthood. It is important for adults and children to have long-term medical care. If you or your child have congenital heart disease, make sure to regularly schedule appointments with a heart doctor, or cardiologist.

These visits will help you to make the best decisions for you or your child. They will also make you more aware of your own medical history. That knowledge will help you further prepare for any of your future children.