A congenital heart defect (CHD) is the most common type of heart defect present at birth, affecting normal heart function and blood flow in the body. These defects can be simple asymptomatic conditions or complex life threatening problems. The most common type is interventricular communication.
However, in the majority of cases, the cause remains unknown. Timely diagnosis, lack of awareness and resources are the main problems in urban and rural India. The result is inappropriate treatment of children with coronary artery disease, making it more difficult for rural parents to access specialized medical care. Understanding the challenges and taking a more collaborative approach with a sense of urgency can help deal with the problem effectively. Dr Keshava R, Director of Cardiology, Fortis Hospital, Cunningham Road, explains in detail how to raise a child with congenital heart defects.
What are the causes of birth defects?
Coronary heart disease is often detected during a pregnancy ultrasound showing an abnormal heart rhythm. In some cases, newborns may have symptoms of heart defect like shortness of breath, difficulty feeding, low weight, stunted growth, bluish skin, etc. Less serious defects may go undiagnosed until later in childhood or adulthood. Swelling of the hands / ankles / feet, shortness of breath or exhaustion from exercise can be warning signs.
Do all defects require surgery?
Some cases of life-threatening illnesses may require one or more surgeries to repair the heart or blood vessels. In addition, modern technology has minimally invasive methods such as catheter procedures to treat certain defects and minimize trauma from surgery.
The specific reason for most inherent heart defects remains unknown. However, to reduce the overall risk of birth defects, you can take the steps below a few months before or during pregnancy:
• Make sure you are vaccinated against rubella and the flu.
• Avoid smoking, alcohol, medication, or any dietary enhancement.
• Take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day during the first trimester of pregnancy.
• Keep your blood sugar under control if you have diabetes.
Myths that often cause fear
- Children with coronary artery disease do not survive to adulthood.
- Most children with coronary artery disease live normal, long, healthy lives with no long-term effect on their quality of life.
- CHD means that one cannot have an active life or a normal childhood.
In fact, 95 percent of children with coronary artery disease are fully active. A small percentage will experience obstacles depending on the severity of their fault. Being active reduces the risk of obesity and high blood pressure, relieves anxiety, and encourages teamwork and friendship.
The bright side
Coronary heart disease can be overwhelming, stressful, and in some cases, can be tragic. However, some families have found the silver lining in such situations. For example, siblings can be more resilient, exhibit more compassion, a greater sense of wonder and joy, and a greater appreciation for life. There is also a change in parents’ priorities and attitudes towards life to appreciate the little things much more.