Screening is key to learning more about congenital heart defects

Congenital heart defects are abnormalities in the structure or function of a baby’s heart that are present at birth. The primary goal of Birth Heart Defect Awareness Week, February 7-14, is to increase awareness and education about coronary heart disease.

Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defects affecting approximately one in every 110 babies. In fact, there are currently two to three million people in the United States living with coronary heart disease. One in four babies born with coronary heart disease has what is called a critical congenital heart defect, which means that this baby will immediately require surgery or a life-saving procedure.

Coronary artery disease can affect any part of the heart, including any of its four chambers, the heart valves, or the blood vessels that enter or leave the heart. The cause of coronary heart disease is most often unknown, but can be influenced by genetic factors or environmental factors.

A parent with coronary heart disease has a 5% chance of having a baby with coronary heart disease. Maternal health issues such as diabetes, lupus, obesity, and rubella (or German measles) can also contribute to an increased risk of having a baby with coronary heart disease. Pregnant women who take certain over-the-counter or prescription medications, who smoke or drink are also at higher risk of having a baby with coronary heart disease. Although marijuana use during pregnancy does not cause heart defects in babies, it should be noted that it has been linked to other birth defects, premature labor and developmental problems.

Maximizing maternal health and instructing pregnant women to take a folic acid supplement are protective factors in preventing coronary artery disease in babies. It is vital that women planning pregnancy or who are pregnant receive high quality health care.

Coronary artery disease can be diagnosed before a baby is born, right after birth, or later in life. In fact, one-third of coronary artery disease is diagnosed in utero, one-third is diagnosed after birth, and one-third is not diagnosed until after illness or death. Prenatal ultrasounds can detect some coronary artery disease as early as 18 to 20 weeks.

Starting in 2011, the CDC recommended uniform screening for all babies, and New Mexico began screening all newborns for CCHD starting in 2014. This universal screening was implemented because it was determined that the health benefits of screening outweigh the cost of screening. Screening is done by checking if there is a significant difference in a baby’s blood oxygen level in one arm and one leg to help identify CCHD.

While this can identify babies who need immediate intervention, it does not detect babies born with non-critical coronary artery disease which does not impact blood oxygen levels. A congenital heart defect can be diagnosed during a routine office visit, sick visit, or checkup. It is specifically reviewed during a student-athlete’s physical pre-participation in school, as required by the New Mexico Activities Association and is also recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Some symptoms of coronary heart disease in babies include heart murmur, blue lips or fingers, increased respiratory rate, signs of labored breathing, fatigue when feeding, or excessive sleepiness. For older children and teens, symptoms may also include exercise intolerance or difficulty keeping up with peers, chest pain with exercise, breathing problems, fainting, or abnormal or skipped heartbeats.

If there’s reason to believe your child might have coronary heart disease, they can be diagnosed with an echocardiogram, a special ultrasound of the heart. A heart defect can be repaired surgically, through a non-invasive procedure, or can go away on its own. If you are concerned that your child has a heart problem, please make an appointment with your pediatrician.

People who have had coronary heart disease may also have other health care needs that are important to recognize. They may have developmental delays, learning disabilities, anxiety and depression, among other issues. It is essential for a child’s growth, development, health and well-being to recognize that they may need additional supports or therapies to ensure they have what they need to thrive. flourish. Also, as more and more children born with coronary artery disease become adults with coronary artery disease, it is important that they continue to receive lifelong care with a cardiologist familiar with coronary artery disease.

More information about congenital heart disease diagnosis, treatment and support can be found on these websites:,,, and

Melissa Mason is a general pediatrician at Journey Pediatrics in Albuquerque. Please send your questions to [email protected]