“Congenital” means ‘existing at birth’. A child may be born with a defect, or abnormality, of the heart or blood vessels leading to or from the heart, known as Congenital Heart Disease or CHD. It is the most common type of birth defect in the world and it can affect just under 1 in 100 children. There are many different types of heart defects, ranging from very small lesions, which can heal on their own, to much more complex and life-threatening abnormalities, such as critical CHD. The most common defects are termed “hole in the heart,” where there are defects in the walls between the chambers of the heart.
CHD can be diagnosed in the fetal stage. During pregnancy, a heart defect could be picked up at the 16 week scan and even more clearly at a 20 week scan. At these scans, ask the sonographer to ensure that the heart has 4 chambers and that the flow into the lungs and body is normal. If not, your sonographer should refer you specialist for a detailed antenatal scan, and if needed, a paediatric cardiologist to determine the exact nature of the problem. If you have a history of CHD in your family or previous children, you should tell your doctor so they can check the baby’s heart very carefully on the scan.
After birth, the baby’s heart needs to take over the job of pumping blood throughout the body and at this point, it may be clear that there is a problem. Symptoms can be understood at various stages of the child’s life:
First Few Hours of Life: A baby that has critical CHD often has blueness of the skin, particularly with a blue tongue or lips. This is an important danger sign, which should never be ignored. The baby may also have a fast heartbeat, fast breathing, and cold hands and feet.
Early Infancy: poor weight gain, pale or bluish skin colour (especially concerning is bluish tongue/lips), fast breathing when sleeping, at rest or feeding, and excessive sweating
Older Children: tiredness, becoming short of breath easily and frequent chest and lung illnesses
For most cases, there is no known cause for the defect. In some cases, there may be genetic reasons, and heart defects could also be caused by something the mother was exposed to in her pregnancy, such as an infection or a drug. For example, being exposed to German measles while pregnant could put the baby at risk for CHD, yet this can be prevented by ensuring that young girls are vaccinated against rubella. But for the most part CHD cannot be prevented. This means that early diagnosis is extremely important.
Some defects are simple and don’t need treatment, such as a small hole between heart chambers that closes on its own. Cases that are more complex require surgery. With advances in surgery, virtually every heart condition can be improved, some entirely, by surgery. The good news is that most children born today with CHD will survive and, with proper treatment, can lead a normal or near-normal life, with many surviving into their late adulthood.
Early detection, awareness, and treatment help in increasing the survival rates among children. The earlier CHD is detected and treated the more likely it is that the child will survive and have fewer complications when they are older. CHD is not as deadly as it was considered before.
KIMS offers comprehensive, multidisciplinary care, early detection of CHD, treatment to prevent complications of congenital heart conditions and repair of heart defects. With advancements in diagnosis, surgery, interventional procedures, and medication at KIMS, more and more children with heart defects are growing up to lead full, active lives.