About Medicine: Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week

Anthony Navone, MD
Marcus Daly Cardiology Services
A service of Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital
1200 Westwood Drive
Hamilton, MT 59840
(406) 375-4665

Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week
Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week is observed each year during February 7-14 to promote awareness and education about congenital heart defects (CHDs). CHDs affect approximately one in 100 births every year in the United States and are the most common type of birth defect. Over 40,000 babies born annually will have CHD. There are 35 different types of heart birth defects. Over 1.3 million Americans alive today have some form of congenital heart defect. The word "congenital" means existing at birth. The heart ailment is a defect or abnormality, not a disease. A defect results when the heart or blood vessels near the heart don't develop normally before birth.

A normal heart has valves, arteries and chambers that carry the blood in a circulatory pattern: body-heart- lungs-heart-body. When all chambers and valves work correctly, the blood is pumped through the heart, to the lungs for oxygen, back the heart and out to the body for delivery of oxygen. When valves, chambers, arteries and veins are malformed, this circulation pattern can be impaired. Congenital heart defects result in situations that may or may not be disruptive to a person's circulatory system. Defects range in severity from simple problems, such as "holes"between chambers of the heart, to very severe malformations, such as complete absence of one or more chambers or valves.

Who is at risk to have a child with a congenital heart defect?

Anyone can have a child with a congenital heart defect. Out of 1,000 births, at least eight babies will have some form of congenital heart disorder, most of which are mild. If you or other family members have already had a baby with a heart defect, your risk of having a baby with heart disease may be higher.

Over 1.3 million Americans alive today have some form of congenital heart defect. In the United States, about 40,000 children are born with a heart defect each year. At least eight of every 1,000 infants born each year have a heart defect.

Causes of Heart Defects:

Unknown cause: We don't know the exact cause of most heart defects. Although the reason defects occur is presumed to be genetic. To date, only a few genes have been discovered that have been linked to the presence of heart defects.

Genetic syndrome: Some people with congenital heart defects have a specific genetic condition that can include other health problems. They may or may not know that they have such a condition. These conditions can vary widely in their severity. Down's, Noonan's, William's and Turner's syndromes are such examples of specific genetic conditions associated with congenital heart disease.

Environmental exposure: Heart defects can also be caused by something the mother was exposed to during her pregnancy, such as an infection or a drug.

How can I tell if my baby or child has a congenital heart defect?

Severe heart disease generally becomes evident during the first few months after birth. Some babies are blue or have very low blood pressure shortly after birth. Other defects cause breathing difficulties, feeding problems, or poor weight gain. Minor defects are most often diagnosed on a routine medical checkup. Minor defects rarely cause symptoms. While most heart murmurs in children are normal, some may be due to defects.

How is CHD treated?

Most heart defects can be corrected of helped with surgery, medicine, or devices like heart valves and pacemakers.

How well can people with congenital heart defects function?

Due to advances in medical and surgical therapies, more than 90% of infants born with a CHD will live to see their 18th birthday. Although exercise capacity may be limited, most people lead normal or nearly normal lives. For more complex lesions, limitations are common. Some children with congenital heart disease have developmental delay or other learning difficulties. Co-management between CHD specialists and primary care providers is important to address nutritional needs, exercise intolerance or restrictions, as well as psychosocial or cognitive issues that may arise during the adolescent and young adult periods.

American Heart Association and The Children's Heart Foundation combine support.

To help further lifesaving research for congenital heart defects, the American Heart Association/American Stroke

Association and The Children's Heart Foundation are joining forces to help tackle the world's number one birth defect.

This new alliance will not only provide grants to further research, but will also provide an outlet to encourage conversations among parents and caregivers through the patient Support Network.

The Children's Heart Foundation and American Heart Association both rely on the support of individuals, corporations and foundations to fund vital, life-saving research. Please help them in their quest by donating to them today.

Donations to The Children's Heart Foundation can be made either on-line at http://www.childrensheartfoundation.org/ or also can also be mailed to:

The Children's Heart Foundation
PO Box 244
Lincolnshire, IL 60069

Donation stress of the American heart association can also be made on-line at https://donatenow.heart.org or by calling at 1-800- AHA-USA1 (1-800- 242-8721).

Questions and or comments regarding this week's health column please contact, Anthony Navone, MD at Marcus Daly Cardiology Center and the International Heart Institute, a service of Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital, 1200 Westwood Drive, Hamilton, MT 59840. Working together to build a healthier community!


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