February is American Heart Month and this week is Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week. For pediatric patients and their families, the diagnosis of a congenital heart defect can be life altering.
Michael P. Miller, MD, FCCP, FAAP, Medical Director of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Bon Secours – St. Mary’s Hospital, shares the following facts about this condition that affects nearly 40,000 infants in the United States each year.
What is a congenital heart defect?
A congenital heart defect is when there is a problem with the structure of the heart. It occurs when the heart or blood vessels don’t develop properly before birth.
There are many different types of congenital heart defects. They can involve the walls, valves, or blood vessels of the heart. Some defects are associated with genetic syndromes, but the cause of them in most babies is unknown.
How are congenital heart defects diagnosed?
Most types of congenital heart defects are diagnosed before a baby is born or in infancy. Some defects, however, are not diagnosed until later in childhood, or even adulthood. An echocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart, is the tool most often used to look for congenital heart defects.
For those not diagnosed before birth, severe heart defects are usually found during the first weeks to months after birth. Symptoms include the baby having low blood pressure, turning blue, having difficulty breathing, problems feeding and not gaining weight. Less severe defects may be diagnosed later in childhood at the primary care provider’s office, as they often don’t cause symptoms.
How are congenital heart defects treated?
Treatment for congenital heart defects depend on the type of defect. As defects may need to be repaired by a cardiothoracic surgeon with one or more surgeries. Other defects can be treated by a cardiologist through cardiac catheterization. This procedure uses a thin tube to go through an artery, and blood vessels to reach the heart.
There are some defects that cannot be completely repaired, but the function of the heart can be improved through palliative surgery. This type of surgery focuses on improving a patient’s quality of life. It is a complicated journey though that requires a comprehensive medical team including cardiothoracic surgeons, cardiologists, critical care specialists, perfusionists, and nurses.
We’re here to help
During this difficult journey, we know that this can be an extremely stressful time for the family members and loved ones who require education as well as emotional support. It takes everyone involved to achieve optimal outcomes for each patient. Learn about the heart care services available at Bon Secours.
Want to learn more about your own heart health? Take our free, online heart risk assessment today.