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Congenital heart defects are problems present at birth, which impact the structure of the baby’s heart and the way it functions. These heart defects can impact the way blood flows through the heart and reaches the rest of the body. Congenital heart defects vary from mild such as a small hole in the heart to extreme ones such as missing or poorly developed parts of the heart. These defects are the most common type of birth defects found in children.

Causes of Congenital Heart Defects

The exact cause of congenital heart defects in children is not known. Some babies have defects because of changes in their genes or chromosomes. However, in other cases, the defects are a result of a combination of genes, accompanied by other factors such as the environment, the diet of the mother, mother’s general health condition and medication during pregnancy, smoking during pregnancy, etc. Such as, in some cases, the expecting mother has diabetes or obesity, which can cause heart issues and defects in the child.

Types of Congenital Heart Defects

Atrial Septal Defect or ASD: This type of heart hole is present in the portion of the septum that separates the right and left chambers of the heart, causing oxygen-rich blood from the left chamber (atrium) to flow into the right chamber rather than flowing into the left ventricle as per normal process. This leads to oxygen-rich blood flowing back into the lungs instead of flowing into the body. ASD could be small or large depending on condition. A small ASD is often harmless and does not require any special treatment closes on its own as the child grows. Whereas a large ASD is caused more blood leakage and could cause potential harm to the baby. These heart holes do not fill up on their own instead require special treatment and care. Most of the babies do not show any signs of a heart hole up until 30 years or later. But if a large ASD is not repaired in time, it might cause right heart failure, irregular heartbeats, stroke, pulmonary hypertension leading to severe complications.

Ventricular Septal Defect or VSD:  A VSD is a type of heart hole where there is an opening in the septum that divides the lower chambers of the heart – the ventricles. This heart hole causes the oxygen-rich blood from the left ventricle to flow into the right ventricle and mix up with the oxygen-poor blood, instead of flowing out of the body through the aorta. A baby might have more than one VSD but in most cases, VSD close as the baby grows up and do not cause any trouble. Large size VSD, however, might cause some symptoms and would require surgery if they do not close on their own. A large VSD could result in heart failure, growth failure, irregular heartbeats, and pulmonary hypertension.

Coarctation of the Aorta: This is a serious congenital defectwhich indicates a narrowing of the aorta. The aorta is the large blood vessel which branches off the heart to deliver oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. When a child develops Coarctation of the aorta, the heart is forced to pump harder to force the blood through the narrowed aorta, which tends to impact the efficiency and thereby, the general health of the child. The condition, usually present at birth, can be mild or severe, depending on the child. Some cases might go unnoticed until adulthood, depending on how much the aorta is narrowed. While the treatment for this condition is easily available and is successful but it requires life-long follow-up and precautions.

Double-outlet Right Ventricle (DORV): A serious congenital heart defect in which the aorta of the child’s heart, which is normally connected to the left ventricle (the chamber which pumps oxygen-rich blood to the body) is instead by default connected to the right ventricle (the chamber which oxygen-poor blood to the lungs). This causes both arteries to flow out of the right ventricle, which implies that oxygen-poor blood is circulated to the entire body, causing serious health issues.

D-Transposition of the Great Arteries: A serious congenital heart condition in which the aorta and the pulmonary artery of the child’s heart are switched from their normal position. This is in turn, causes the aorta to come off the right ventricle and pulmonary artery to come from the left ventricle. This implies that the oxygen-rich blood from the lungs goes back to the lungs, while the poor-oxygen blood from the body goes back to the body instead of heading to the lungs to be enriched with oxygen. 

Ebstein Anomaly: This is a rare congenital malformation of the child heart in which the valve between the right atrium and the right ventricle of the heart (known as a tricuspid valve) is the wrong place and its leaflets are of an incorrect shape than usual. This causes the valve to malfunction leading to leaking of the blood back to the valve and into the right atrium.

Hypoplastic Left Heart SyndromeA severe and complex type of defect which affects the normal blood flow of the heart. This condition happens when the baby’s left side of the heart does not develop properly during pregnancy. This leads the left-side incapable of pumping oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body properly. A surgery or another medical treatment is required in such case, as soon as the baby is born and shows symptoms of the disorder.

Symptoms of Congenital Heart Defects

Symptoms and signs of heart defects in babies depend on the type of problem; in some cases, there may be no symptoms at all. However, some common signs include:

  • Blue-tinted nails
  • Blue lips
  • Tiredness when feeding
  • Sleepiness

Most congenital heart defects are detected during pregnancy; however, the others are detected post-birth or later in life during early childhood years or adulthood.

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