Congenital Heart Disorder is one of the most common congenital disorders in India, affecting around 200,000 children every year. Of these, around one-fifth are potentially life-threatening and require medical care within the first year of life. Thankfully, with low-cost and advanced cardiac care facilities, the number of fatalities in India is steadily declining. But what are these heart problems in babies and how can they be treated? This blog aims to provide an overview of heart problems in babies, including their types, risk factors, diagnosis, and management. By equipping parents with knowledge, we hope to promote awareness and empower families to take proactive steps in addressing heart conditions in their infants.
What are Some Common Heart Problems in Babies?
Congenital heart defects are structural abnormalities present at birth, affecting the heart’s structure and how it functions. These conditions can range from mild to severe, requiring varying degrees of medical intervention. CHD is a general term referring to a range of birth defects, with a hole in the heart being the most prevalent. Some babies are born with an even more critical heart defect – Critical CHD, a congenital defect that leads to low oxygen levels.
Some of the common types of heart diseases in babies include:
Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD)
The problem is commonly referred to as a hole in the heart, i.e., a hole appears in the wall that separates the heart’s lower chamber. It changes how blood flows to the heart and lungs. Oxygen-rich blood goes back to the lungs rather than flowing to the body.
Atrial Septal Defect (ASD)
This refers to a hole in the wall that separates the heart’s upper chambers. The hole varies in size and may or may not close on its own. If the house does not close, it increases the amount of blood flowing through the lungs, damaging lung blood vessels over time, and increasing the risk of stroke and heart failure as the patient reaches adulthood.
Tetralogy of Fallot
A combination of four heart defects leads to reduced oxygen levels in the blood. This happens when a baby’s heart does not develop correctly in the womb. Babies with Tetralogy Fallot have bluish-looking skin. Sometimes, the skin turns blue when the baby cries or during feeding. Infants with Tetralogy Fallot are more likely to have a higher risk of endocarditis (infection of the layers of the heart), irregular heart rhythm, dizziness, fainting, seizures, etc.
Dextro-Transposition of The Great Arteries
This heart disease occurs when the arteries carrying blood out of the heart are switched, thereby affecting blood circulation. Ideally, the right side of the heart pumps oxygen-poor blood from the heart to the lungs while the left side pumps oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. In babies with d-TGA, while oxygen-poor blood enters the heart, it does not go to the lungs. Instead, it is pumped into the body. Similarly, oxygen-rich blood is pumped back to the lungs and not to the body. Babies with d-TGA have breathing problems, pounding hearts, weak pulses, bluish skin, etc.
Coarctation of The Aorta
The defect occurs when the aorta is narrower than usual and may need surgery. This narrowing affects normal blood flow to the body, backing up the flow to the left ventricle and making the muscles work harder to get blood out of the heart. When left untreated, it could weaken the heart muscles leading to heart failure.
What Are the Risk Factors That Lead to Heart Problems in Babies?
While the exact causes of congenital heart defects remain unknown, certain risk factors increase the likelihood of their occurrence. This includes:
- Exposure to environmental pollutants
- The mother’s diet, her health, and the medications used during her pregnancy
- Mother’s lifestyle during pregnancy – smoking, drug abuse, etc.
- Illnesses during pregnancy, including diabetes, viral infection, etc.
How Is Congenital Heart Disease Diagnosed?
Early detection plays a vital role in managing heart problems in babies. Many congenital heart defects can be identified during routine prenatal ultrasounds or shortly after birth. Common symptoms of heart disease in babies include bluish skin, nails, or lips, breathing problems, sleepiness, etc. Also, babies with CHD get tired during feeding.
- Electrocardiogram – To test the rhythm of the heartbeat
- Echocardiogram – To capture moving images of the heart using sound waves
- Cardiac Catheterization – To measure pressure and oxygen levels in the blood vessels &determine if the blood is flowing from the left to the right side of the heart, instead of the body.
- Chest X-ray- To determine if the heart is enlarged
- Genetic Testing – To test for genetic conditions that could cause CHD
- Pulse Oximetry – To test oxygen levels in the blood
- Cardiac MRI – To diagnose heart defects in babies
What Are the Treatment Options for Heart Problems in Babies?
The treatment options for heart problems in babies depend on the specific defect and its severity. While some minor defects may not require immediate intervention, others may demand surgical procedures or ongoing medical management. Treatments may include:
- Medications – Certain medications can help improve heart function, control symptoms, and manage complications. Patent ductus arteriosus is a specific CHD that can be treated through medications like ibuprofen and indomethacin.
- Cardiac Catheterization – A catheter is inserted in the blood vessels in the groin or neck to repair simple CHDs like atrial septal defects or narrowed heart valves.
- Surgery – Surgeons open the chest to repair heart defects in babies like a hole in the heart or heart wall, patent ductus arteriosus, etc. It also helps widen narrowed blood vessels, repair or replace blood vessels, etc.
Complex treatments like heart transplants are performed when the heart defect cannot be repaired or if the heart fails after surgery. In situations where CHD has resulted in heart failure, or if the child is dependent on a ventilator, a heart transplant is performed.
However, not all babies are strong enough for heart surgery. In such situations, doctors perform palliative surgery to improve oxygen levels. If the heart ventricles are diseased and damaged, a total artificial heart is recommended.
Providing Emotional Support for Parents
Receiving a diagnosis of a congenital heart defect in their baby can be overwhelming for parents. It is crucial for them to seek emotional support from healthcare professionals, support groups, and other families facing similar challenges. Understanding that they are not alone and having access to reliable information can help parents cope with the emotional and practical aspects of caring for a baby with a heart condition.
Heart problems in babies require careful attention, early diagnosis, and appropriate management. By familiarizing themselves with the types, risk factors, and available treatment options, parents can become better at managing heart problems in babies.
Contact us or visit us for the heart specialist in Nagercoil to learn more about congenital heart diseases. Calwin Hospitals is one of the best heart hospitals in Nagercoil offering world-class treatment at low cost.