Congenital heart defects in children
Congenital heart defects in children
If your child has been diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, it means he or she was born with a problem in the heart's structure. The news that your child has a congenital heart defect probably made you anxious and worried about your child's immediate and long-term health. But, knowing about your child's congenital heart defect can help you understand his or her condition and what you can expect in the coming months and years.
Some congenital heart defects are simple and don't need treatment. For example, a small hole between heart chambers that closes on its own. Other congenital heart defects in children are more complex and may require several surgeries performed over a period of several years.
Serious congenital heart defects usually become evident during the first few hours, days, weeks and months of life. Signs and symptoms could include:
Less-serious congenital heart defects are often not diagnosed until later in childhood. Your child may not have any noticeable signs or symptoms. If signs and symptoms are evident in older children, they may include:
When to see a doctor
If your child has any of the symptoms of less-serious heart defects as he or she grows, call your child's doctor. Your child's doctor can let you know if your child's symptoms are due to a heart defect or another medical condition.
How the heart works
How heart defects develop
It's usually at this point in your baby's development that heart defects may begin to develop. Researchers aren't sure exactly what causes defects to begin, but they think some medical conditions, medications and genetics may play a role.
Types of heart defects
Most congenital heart defects result from problems early in your child's heart development, the cause of which is unknown. However, certain environmental and genetic risk factors may play a role. They include:
For serious congenital heart defects, it's necessary for your child to receive treatment soon after birth to avoid serious problems. Fortunately, most serious heart defects are found soon after birth, and sometimes are detected even before your baby is born.
Some of the potential complications that can occur with a congenital heart defect include:
Preparing for your appointment
If your child has a life-threatening heart defect, it will likely be detected soon after birth, or possibly before birth as a part of routine exams during pregnancy.
If you suspect your child has a heart defect later in infancy or childhood, talk to your child's doctor. Be prepared to describe your child's symptoms and provide a family medical history, since some heart defects tend to be hereditary. Your child's doctor may also want to know if the mother of the child had any medical conditions or used any medications while pregnant that may have been a risk factor for developing a congenital heart defect.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions helps you make the most of your time together. You might want to ask the following questions:
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Your child's doctor may initially suspect a problem because he or she hears a heart murmur during a routine exam. A heart murmur is a sound that occurs when blood flows through your child's heart abnormally. Many heart murmurs are innocent, meaning the murmur isn't dangerous to your child's health. Some murmurs, however, may mean blood is flowing through your child's heart abnormally because he or she has a heart defect.
Tests to diagnose a congenital heart defect
Treatments and drugs
A congenital heart defect may have no long-term effect on your child's health — in some instances, such defects can safely go untreated. Sometimes they aren't even discovered until adulthood.
Some heart defects, however, are serious and require treatment soon after they're found. Depending on the type of heart defect your child has, doctors treat congenital heart defects with:
Coping and support
It's natural for many parents to feel worried about their child's health, even after treatment of a congenital heart defect. Although many children who have congenital heart defects can do the same things children without heart defects can, here are a few things to keep in mind if your child has had a congenital heart defect:
Because the exact cause of most congenital heart defects is unknown, it may not be possible to prevent these conditions. However, there are some things you can do that might reduce your child's overall risk of birth defects and possibly heart defects too, such as:
Last Updated: 2010-10-02
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