Congenital Heart Disease (CHD)
Congenital heart disease is a generic term for a range of conditions where there is any structural defect of the heart that is present at birth. This defect occurs as the baby’s heart develops during pregnancy, when the baby is in the mother’s womb. Congenital heart disease happens during the first 8 weeks of conception which is the most important period for the baby’s heart formation and development. Congenital heart disease can be very simple or less severe wherein a hole in the heart closes on its own as the baby grows or it can be very severe which requires multiple surgeries throughout the child’s life and some may be even life threatening.
The actual cause of congenital heart disease is still not known. Some of the possible causes are:
- Genetically factors and inheritance
- Certain medications taken by the mother during pregnancy.
- Smoking during pregnancy.
- Mother’s health condition during pregnancy.
Most of the defects in congenital heart disease do not exhibit any symptoms and in many cases, it remains undiagnosed until the baby grows older. Some of the symptoms of severe defects at birth include:
- Fast rate of breathing
- Fatigue or tiredness when feeding
- Bluish discolouration of skin, lips and nails (cyanosis)
Diagnosis of congenital heart disease can be done during pregnancy or after birth.
- Foetal echocardiography during pregnancy
- Physical examination
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Chest X-ray
- Cardiac CT scan and MRI
- Cardiac catheterization
Very little is known about the prevention of congenital heart disease. However certain measures can be taken during pregnancy in order to reduce the risks. It includes:
- Avoid smoking and alcohol consumption
- Take good care during the first trimester (three months) which is a very crucial period for the baby’s development.
- Try to avoid infections and take necessary measures such as avoiding contact with infected people and vaccinations, if advised by your doctor.
- Maintain blood sugar, cholesterol and pressure levels.
Treatment for congenital heart disease depends on the type and severity of the defect, age, size and general health of the affected newborn or child. It includes medications, medical and surgical procedures.
- Medicines used in the treatment involve those which are used to relieve the symptoms, stabilise the condition before and after intervention.
- Medical and surgical procedures vary depending on the type of defect involved. Catheter procedures are common among the surgical procedures.
- Heart transplant can be done when there is a severe defect which cannot be repaired.
- Open heart surgery may be done when catheter procedures seem ineffective.
- Implantable heart devices such as a pacemaker can be placed in order to control heart rate or improve certain complications related to congenital heart disease.
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