About eight in 1,000 babies are born with congenital heart disease (CHD). While the cause of most defects is rarely discovered, sometimes CHD is traced to a chromosomal abnormality, fetal exposure to drugs and alcohol or a viral disease.
Any part of the heart or cardiovascular system can be affected by congenital problems. Among the most common types of CHD are:
Abnormal blood flow through the heart, caused by conditions such as atrial septal defect (ASD) and ventricular septal defect (VSD). Commonly referred to as “holes in the heart,” septal defects occur when the opening in the wall that divides the heart into left and right chambers fails to close at birth. ASD's occur in the heart’s upper chambers, VSD's in the lower chambers.
Obstructed blood flow in the heart or major blood vessels. This may be caused by a defect such as coarctation of the aorta, which occurs when the artery carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body is pinched. In that case, blood flow to the lower body is blocked and pressure builds in the upper body. Associated with this, one or more of the valves in the heart can also be obstructed.
Abnormal circulation caused by incomplete development of the heart.
In rare cases, the positions of the pulmonary artery and the aorta are switched-a malformation called transposition of the great vessels. When that happens, blood is pumped back to the body without passing through the lungs. Infants born with this defect look blue and need immediate medical attention. There are many other causes of “blue babies.”
Good reason for optimism:
Good diagnostic tools and regular checkups can help doctors detect congenital heart disease early. Noninvasive tests such as echocardiography and magnetic resonance imaging make diagnosis painless. Ultrasound examinations can also detect CHD before a baby is even born.
Treatment of CHD depends on the type and extent of the defect. Sometimes, monitoring alone is required. A small hole in the heart, for example, may heal on its own. Medication may be necessary to make the heart beat more efficiently; sometimes, surgery is necessary.
While many cases of CHD are discovered early in childhood or infancy-murmurs, feeding difficulties, rapid heart beat and excessive perspiration are among the symptoms-sometimes a congenital problem goes undetected until adulthood.
Click here for some links for additional information, including descriptions and images of congenital and acquired heart disease.