Congenital Heart Disease Treatment
Congenital heart disease, or a congenital heart defect, is a heart abnormality present at birth. The problem can affect:
- the heart walls
- the heart valves
- the blood vessels
There are numerous types of congenital heart defects. They can range from simple conditions that don’t cause symptoms to complex problems that cause severe, life-threatening symptoms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are currently 1 million adults and 1 million children in the United States living with congenital heart defects. Treatments and follow-up care for defects have improved drastically over the past few decades, so nearly all children with heart defects survive into adulthood. Some need continuous care for their heart defect throughout their lives. However, many go on to have active and productive lives despite their condition.
Types of Congenital Heart Disease
Though there are many different types of congenital heart defects, they can be divided into three main categories:
- In heart valve defects, the valves inside the heart that direct blood flow may close up or leak. This interferes with the heart’s ability to pump blood correctly.
- In heart wall defects, the natural walls that exist between the left and right sides and the upper and lower chambers of the heart may not develop correctly, causing blood to back up into the heart or to build up in places where it doesn’t belong. The defect puts pressure on the heart to work harder, which may result in high blood pressure.
- In blood vessel defects, the arteries and veins that carry blood to the heart and back out to the body may not function correctly. This can reduce or block blood flow, leading to various health complications.
Cyanotic and Acyanotic Congenital Heart Disease
Many doctors classify congenital heart disease as either cyanotic congenital heart disease or acyanotic congenital heart disease. In both types, the heart isn’t pumping blood as efficiently as it should. The main difference is that cyanotic congenital heart disease causes low levels of oxygen in the blood, and acyanotic congenital heart disease doesn’t. Babies with reduced oxygen levels may experience breathlessness and a bluish tint to their skin. Babies who have enough oxygen in their blood don’t display these symptoms, but they may still develop complications later in life, such as high blood pressure.
Congenital heart disease occurs as a result of an early developmental problem in the heart’s structure. The defect typically interferes with the normal flow of blood through the heart, which may affect breathing. Although researchers aren’t exactly sure why the heart fails to develop correctly, suspected causes include the following:
- The heart defect may run in families.
- Taking certain prescription drugs during pregnancy puts a child at a higher risk for a heart defect.
- Using alcohol or illegal drugs during pregnancy can increase a child’s risk of having a heart defect.
- Mothers who had a viral infection during the first trimester of pregnancy are more likely to give birth to a child with a heart defect.
- Increased blood sugar levels, such as occurs with diabetes, may affect childhood development.