Understanding Congenital Heart Disease

About eight out of every thousand babies are born with a disorder of the heart. The cause of these disorders can rarely be found, though chromosome abnormalities, genetic factors and infections such as rubella during pregnancy may all play a role.

Symptoms of congenital heart disease vary with the type of abnormality. Hypertension, poor growth and a bluish cast to the skin are among the common ones. Some abnormalities produce no symptoms early in life.

Most congenital heart disorders can be corrected by surgery, and some mild abnormalities correct themselves in the first year of life. Timing of surgery depends on the child’s overall health and the type of defect. It is not unusual to wait until the child is one or more years old.

The most common abnormality, ventricular septal defect, is an opening between the lower chambers of the heart. It accounts for one-fourth of all congenital heart disease. Up to half of the smaller openings close without treatment during the first year. A larger opening can be closed surgically.

Atrial septal defect is an opening between the upper heart chambers. It occurs most commonly in girls and in infants with Down’s syndrome. There may be no symptoms. It is corrected surgically between the ages of three and five years.

Aortic stenosis is a narrowing of the valve through which blood leaves the heart. Mild cases may cause only a heart murmur. Surgery to widen the valve is necessary only in severe stenosis.

Most congenital heart defects are detected at birth or during a routine examination. However, if you are concerned about your child’s growth rate or physical stamina, share your concerns with your child’s healthcare provider.

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