What is Congenital Heart Disease?
Congenital heart disease probably represents the most common disease of the heart system in infancy and early childhood. About six to eight babies for every 1,000 born may suffer from one of these disorders. It doesn’t sound very many, but when you consider that around 4,000,000 babies are born in each year within the US alone, the figure still tallies up to a fair number in gross figures. It could represent up to 24,000 to 32,000 babies affected each year.
Congenital Heart Disease Causes
There is little doubt that infections during early pregnancy, especially the first trimester (first three month period), may play a major part. In the bad old days before it was realized how powerful the virus of rubella was. Many more babies were affected. After a rubella epidemic, many babies were born with severe congenital defects, not only of the heart, but of the eyes, ear and brain. The heart is developed around eight to ten weeks after conception, and the virus readily crosses over the placenta into the developing embryo. It can markedly interfere with normal cell division, hence the problems of defects occurring from that point on.
Viruses are not the only cause. There must be many other causes. The taking of drugs during pregnancy may interfere adversely with development. X-rays have also been incriminated, for they too, may interfere with normal cellular replication. If there are defects in the parent, this, too, may increase the baby’s risk. But in the main, we do not know too much about it all. There arc undoubtedly many other causes present.
The symptoms may be many and varied. There may be a below-average weight gain. Feeding problems are common, and attacks of vomiting may take place. There may be sighing, fainting attacks and even blackouts. The baby may be pale, have difficulty in swallowing normal feeds, or may regurgitate food with the appearance of curdled milk. Normal comfortable breathing may be absent. Baby may seem more at ease while bending backwards. The -growing child is often disinclined to join in the normal playground activities with playmates, and may prefer to sit on the SI lines. There could be a bluish tinge to the s in. (This is called cyanosis.)
Congenital Heart Disease Treatment
The question that immediately looms is what should the parent do if any of these telltale symptoms put in an appearance? Many of the symptoms may be intermittent. There are usually no flags flying and red lights flashing. The mother may realize that something is wrong, although often especially with a first baby, the mother may not recognize the symptoms as being abnormal, for she may have no yardstick of comparison. This is often a major problem for young mothers regarding any childhood illness, not necessarily solely heart disorders.
The mother is best advised to take the baby or infant or child to the family doctor. Here, general checks may be initiated. If there is any question of congenital defects, then the appropriate specialty will be recommended. There are experts in this field in every capital city in Australia and New Zealand, and rural towns also have access to good medical investigation and care. Ideally, the child will ultimately wind up at a major city centre with the facilities to diagnose and correct any abnormality.
The range of heart defects is quite large. It is all very complex but today we live in a sophisticated society, and we have access to first-class medical care. A parent with problems should be steered toward the expert centers. Surgery has made remarkable advances in recent times.
In some congenital defects, the relatively simple administration of certain medications is proving beneficial. A condition called patent ductus arteriosus 4 (which means a connection between two major vessels remains open instead of shutting off at birth) is now being treated with a simple drug called indomethacin (also used for arthritics). Given early, it enables the vessels to close and stay shut.