Congenital heart disease means that your baby is born with a heart problem. This problem affects 1 in every 100 to 150 newborns. Some things that happen during pregnancy can lead to congenital heart problems, but most often the reason is not known.
The heart starts out as a simple tube and very early in pregnancy, it is fashioned into a complex pump. The process involves the growth of tissue that divides the heart into compartments, specialization of some cells to take on the pumping action, and others to conduct electrical impulses. Various other complex changes also take place. It is indeed a miracle that so many of us are born with normal hearts.
We are not sure what is the cause of most effects but the causative factors that result in defects must be present between the second to ninth week of pregnancy. One thought is that the genetic material concerned with the normal development of the heart is carried on a number of different genes. In the presence of certain environmental conditions these genes malfunction, leading to errors in the formation of the heart.
Problems That May Cause Defects:
- Rubella (German measles), has been most implicated but other viruses particularly cytomegalovirus and herpes may also play a role.
- Medications and Drugs
- Phenytoin, Amphetamines, sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone), Lithium and Alcohol.
- Cigarette smoking
- Maternal conditions such as Diabetes Mellitus, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, multiple pregnancies, and giving birth at older ages.
What Can We Do?
Women should have their babies in the recommended age range 20-35 years. Avoid excessive smoking and alcohol intake. Avoid taking medication, especially those listed above, during pregnancy. Have your appropriate immunizations (vaccinations). All women in the reproductive age group must be vaccinated against German measles . In the case of diabetes, early antenatal care will allow for proper detection and control if it is present in pregnancy.
There is a slightly increased risk that children of mothers with Congenital Heart Disease, or those who have it in the family history are more likely to have children with defects. Doctors are now able to examine the baby’s heart inside the womb through the use of foetal echocardiography.
Once the baby is born, the six week check up is very important. Most congenital defects that cannot be identified at birth will become obvious at this time.
The Good News.
Surgery for Congenital Heart Disease has shown dramatic advances over the last twenty (20) years. Echocardiography is a painless procedure with no side effects. It can give us important details in a short time. Most defects will need to be and can be corrected surgically or by cardiac catheterization (inserting a tube into the heart by way of the large blood vessel.)
Less than 3 children in 100,000 die from the corrective surgeries above. Early detection and treatment can now enable children to live fuller and healthier lives than ever before in history.