The Impact of Congenital Heart Defects

Updated:Sep 2,2014

Close up of a young worried  boyA normal heart has valves, arteries and chambers that carry the blood in a circulatory pattern: body-heart-lungs-heart-body. When all chambers and valves work correctly, the blood is pumped through the heart, to the lungs for oxygen, back the heart and out to the body for delivery of oxygen. When valves, chambers, arteries and veins are malformed, this circulation pattern can be impaired. Congenital heart defects are malformations that are present at birth. They may or may not have a disruptive effect on a person's circulatory system.

Congenital heart defects are structural problems with the heart present at birth. They result when a mishap occurs during heart development soon after conception and often before the mother is aware that she is pregnant. Defects range in severity from simple problems, such as "holes" between chambers of the heart, to very severe malformations, such as complete absence of one or more chambers or valves.

Having a congenital heart defect can also increase your risk of developing certain medical conditions.
 

Associated Conditions

Having a congenital heart defect can increase your risk of developing certain medical conditions.

Questions about Congenital Heart Defects

Are all heart problems in children congenital?

No, but most are. There are generally three categories of possible childhood heart problems: structural defects, acquired damage and heart rhythm disturbances. These defects are usually - but not always - diagnosed early in life. Rarely, childhood heart problems are not congenital, but heart damage may occur during childhood due to infection. This type of heart disease is called acquired; examples include Kawasaki disease and rheumatic fever. Children also can be born with or develop heart rate problems such as slow, fast, or irregular heart beats, known as "arrhythmias".

Who is at risk to have a child with a congenital heart defect?
Anyone can have a child with a congenital heart defect. Out of 1,000 births, nine babies will have some form of congenital heart disorder, most of which are mild. If you or other family members have already had a baby with a heart defect, your risk of having a baby with heart disease may be higher.

Why do congenital heart defects occur?
Most of the time we do not know. Although the reason defects occur is presumed to be genetic, only a few genes have been discovered that have been linked to the presence of heart defects. Rarely the ingestion of some drugs and the occurrence of some infections during pregnancy can cause defects.

How can I tell if my baby or child has a congenital heart defect?
Severe heart disease generally becomes evident during the first few months after birth. Some babies are blue or have very low blood pressure shortly after birth. Other defects cause breathing difficulties, feeding problems, or poor weight gain. Minor defects are most often diagnosed on a routine medical check up. Minor defects rarely cause symptoms. While most heart murmurs in children are normal, some may be due to defects.

How well can people with congenital heart defects function?
Virtually all children with simple defects survive into adulthood. Although exercise capacity may be limited, most people lead normal or nearly normal lives. For more complex lesions, limitations are common. Some children with congenital heart disease have developmental delay or other learning difficulties.

What is the social/financial impact of congenital heart defects?
Successful treatment requires highly specialized care. Severe congenital heart disease requires extensive financial resources both in and out of the hospital. Children with developmental delay also require community and school-based resources to achieve optimum functioning.

What is the impact of congenital heart disease on families?
The presence of a serious congenital heart defect often results in an enormous emotional and financial strain on young families at a very vulnerable time. Patient/family education is an important part of successful coping.

The Impact of Congenital Heart Defects

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