Here is a harsh reality: Nearly one in 100 babies in the United States is born with a heart defect, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Congenital heart defects are the most common types of birth defects. However, more often than not, it can be treated. That allows children who suffer from the defect to live productive and fulfilling lives.
A congenital defect usually refers to a problem with how the heart was formed before birth. The heart’s development is a very complex process that takes place primarily in the first trimester of pregnancy.
If the heart doesn’t develop properly during any of the pregnancy, a baby will have a heart defect at birth. It can sometimes be detected before birth through an ultrasound. Infants may also be what’s called the “blue babies” at birth because of their skin color, due to decreased oxygen in the blood. This can result from restricted blood flow to the lungs or a mixture of blood that has different levels of oxygen in it.
Additionally, symptoms may arise during the first days or weeks of life. Babies may feed poorly, have poor weight gain and breathe rapidly. Some babies with very severe forms of congenital heart defects may have circulatory collapse and/or shock early in infancy.
For other children, congenital heart disease is discovered when a routine doctor’s visit uncovers a heart murmur. The vast majority of murmurs in childhood are innocent in nature and simply represent normal flow through the heart and blood vessels of the chest.
Still, some people with more subtle forms of congenital heart disease may not know they have an issue until they are older children, teens or even adults. People who have a heart defect commonly experience shortness of breath on exertion, cyanosis (blue appearance), chest pain, murmurs, palpitations and/or fainting.
The treatment for congenital heart disease varies, depending on the child’s specific condition. Many conditions require open heart surgery, and some may need more than one procedure as a child grows. Nearly all conditions can be treated, many using minimally invasive catheter-based procedures, and children can grow up to live normal, healthy lives.
For more information about treatments for heart disease in children, visit ArnoldPalmerHospital.com/HealthyHearts.