Congenital heart defects cannot be cured but may be treated or repaired. Many people have surgeries to repair heart defects. Repairing means replacing faulty heart valves with artificial ones or closing the defects or abnormal openings in the heart. The repair prevents long-term complications, such as abnormal heartbeats or infection of the heart. Depending on the severity and type of congenital heart defect involved, treatment may vary. Some babies may have mild heart attacks that get better over time. Other children may have a more severe manifestation of defects that call for extensive treatment. Treatment options include:
- Medications: Many medications are available that can help the heart function more efficiently. Some may also be used to prevent the formation of blood clots and to control an irregular heartbeat.
- Implantable heart devices: Certain devices, such as pacemakers that help regulate an abnormal heart rate and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICD) that can correct irregular heartbeats, may prevent some of the complications associated with congenital heart defects.
- Catheter procedures: These allow doctors to fix or repair congenital heart defects without surgically opening the chest and heart. The doctor inserts a catheter through a vein in the leg and guides it up to the heart. Using small tools threaded through the catheter, they may proceed to correct the defect. With the advancement of technology, most heart defects are treated this way. It decreases risks and complications of cardiac surgery.
- Open heart surgery: This may be required if catheter procedures are unable to repair the defect. These can close holes in the heart, widen blood vessels, or repair heart valves.
- Heart transplant: In cases where a congenital heart defect is too complex to be repaired, a heart transplant may be resorted to. During this procedure, a donor’s healthy heart replaces the patient’s heart.
What is congenital heart disease?
Congenital heart disease or a congenital heart defect is a medical condition that is present in an individual at birth. There are different types of congenital heart defects, ranging from simple conditions that don’t cause symptoms to complex ones that cause severe, life-threatening symptoms. Below are a few causes that may affect heart development:
- These defects may run in familial genes.
- Certain medications, which are taken during pregnancy, leave the child at a higher risk for a heart defect.
- The use of alcohol and/or illegal drugs during pregnancy can increase the child’s risk of having a heart defect.
- Mothers who suffered from viral infection during the first trimester of pregnancy have a higher probability of giving birth to a child with a heart defect.
- Increased blood sugar levels, such as diabetes, may affect childhood development.
Signs and symptoms:
- Defects in children could include pale grey or blue skin color (cyanosis)
- Swelling in the legs, abdomen, or areas around the eyes
- Rapid breathing and shortness of breath during feedings that lead to poor weight gain
- Chronic lung infections
- Failure to thrive (inability to gain weight)
- Poor exercise or physical activity tolerance
Types of defects:
- Heart valve defects: In heart valve defects, the valves in the heart that direct blood flows either narrow down or leak. This, in turn, interferes with the heart’s ability to pump blood correctly.
- Heart wall defects: In this condition, the walls between the upper and lower chambers and left and right sides of the heart do not develop correctly, causing blood to flow back into the heart or to build up in inappropriate places. Under such conditions, the heart is forced to work harder; so, it may result in heart failure.
- Heart blood vessel defects: In heart blood vessel defects, the blood vessels that carry blood to the heart and back to the body do not function as they should. This can cause blood flow to reduce or even block blood flow, leading to numerous complications.
- Heart muscle defects: In heart muscle defects, the heart does not pump blood as efficiently as it should. This may result in heart failure.