Understanding congenital birth defects
Expecting parents often approach monthly checkups with a combination of anticipation and anxiety.
Seeing a little one moving around and growing inside of mom is a feeling unlike any other. But such visits also can uncover issues, including congenital heart defects.
Congenital heart defects or diseases are defined as problems with the heart’s structure that are present at birth, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. These defects can change the normal flow of blood to the heart, which may cause it to slow down, be blocked or go in the wrong direction.
Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect.
The Mayo Clinic says that defects can range from simple issues that might cause no noticeable problems to complex conditions that can be life-threatening. Many doctors are able to diagnose defects during pregnancy or soon after birth using special cardiac testing. Examples of problems can include an atrial septal defect, a ventricular septal defect and a patent ductus arteriosus.
Many of the defects are characterized by holes or openings in the heart. Some defects resolve on their own. Others may require surgery or cardiac catheterization.
Researchers say that, while they do not fully understand why congenital heart defects occur, the risk of having a baby with one is influenced by family history, genetics and exposure to certain environmental factors during pregnancy. Children also may be at greater risk if their mothers have diabetes, rubella or phenylketonuria. Boys have a slightly higher risk for congenital heart defects than girls.
NHLBI advises that advances in diagnosis and treatment allow most children with congenital heart diseases to survive to adulthood.
However, even if a congenital heart defect was repaired in childhood, one needs regular medical follow-ups throughout life to maintain good health. Follow-up care includes routine visits with a cardiologist, heart-healthy eating, maintaining a healthy weight, and being physically active within recommendations designed for the specific heart anomaly.
It’s important to note that some children can experience developmental delays and lower body weight due to heart defects.
Congenital heart defects are somewhat common. Thanks to advanced screening and thorough treatment methods, many children born with such defects go on to lead long lives.