Children with heart defects can live normal, healthy lives

Here’s a stark reality: nearly one in 100 babies in the United States is born with a heart defect, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Congenital heart defects are the most common types of birth defects. However, most often it can be treated. This allows children who suffer from the defect to live productive and fulfilling lives.

A birth defect usually refers to a problem with the formation of the heart before birth. The development of the heart is a very complex process that takes place mainly during the first trimester of pregnancy.

If the heart does not develop properly during pregnancy, a baby will have a heart defect when it is born. It can sometimes be detected before birth with an ultrasound. Infants can also be called “blue babies” at birth due to the color of their skin, due to decreased oxygen in the blood. This can result from restricted blood flow to the lungs or from blood mixing with different levels of oxygen.

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Additionally, symptoms may occur during the first days or weeks of life. Babies may eat poorly, gain little weight and breathe rapidly. Some babies with very severe forms of congenital heart defects may have circulatory collapse and/or shock in early infancy.

For other children, congenital heart disease is discovered when a routine medical examination reveals a heart murmur. The vast majority of childhood murmurs are innocent in nature and simply represent normal flow through the heart and blood vessels in the chest.

Yet some people with more subtle forms of congenital heart disease may not know they have a problem until they are older children, teenagers, or even adults. People with a heart defect typically experience shortness of breath on exertion, cyanosis (bluish appearance), chest pain, murmurs, palpitations, and/or fainting.

Treatment for congenital heart disease varies depending on the specific condition of the child. Many conditions require open-heart surgery, and some may require more than one procedure as the child grows. Almost any condition can be treated, many using minimally invasive catheter-based procedures, and children can grow and live normal, healthy lives.

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