National Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Week
February celebrates National Congenital Heart Defects Awareness Week.
CHD or Congenital Heart Defects is the #1 leading birth defect. The term “congenital” means that the defect was present at birth. A heart birth defect can result when the heart does not develop properly before birth. The severity of the defect may range from a small hole between heart chambers to missing an entire chamber of the heart.
The exact causes of most congenital heart defects are still unknown. In the beginning of pregnancy the baby begins to develop major organs, such as the heart, which begins to take shape and start beating. Other major blood vessels that connect to the heart begin to take shape as well. This normally takes place within the first 6 weeks of pregnancy. Unfortunately, this is the same time period where birth defects begin to develop. Whether it is due to genetics, environmental factors such as alcohol or smoking, medications, or a combination of all these factors, scientists are still unsure of the exact cause.
Signs and Symptoms
Your doctor may look for certain signs or symptoms to establish a CHD diagnosis. Some examples include: rapid breathing, cyanosis (a bluish tint to the skin, lips, and fingernails), fatigue (tiredness), and poor blood circulation. Echocardiography is a technique that uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart and is performed 18 to 22 weeks into pregnancy. An electrocardiogram shows how well the heart is functioning and will capture heart beats and rhythm. A chest X-ray can be used to see whether the heart is enlarged and can check for the presence of fluid build up.
Not all CHD’s require treatment. Some may correct themselves as the child ages. However when a birth defect does require treatment, there is a minimally invasive procedure available called “catheterization” that may be appropriate. Catheterization is a procedure in which a doctor takes a thin tube and inserts it into a leg vein. Using X-ray images, the tube is guided towards the heart defect and repairs can be made. Open heart surgery is another option when a defect cannot be corrected using a catheter. Finally, there are medications available that can help make the heart work more efficiently.
If you're interested in learning more about congenital heart defects, please visit the following links: