Congenital heart disease means a heart condition or defect that develops in the womb, before a baby is born.There are many different types of congenital heart disease. For example, a baby’s heart valves may not be properly formed or there may be holes between the chambers of their heart.
For many babies diagnosed with congenital heart disease, their condition is a minor problem which either doesn’t need any treatment or can be successfully corrected with surgery. Other conditions are more serious and sadly, some children do not survive. However, thanks to advances in early diagnosis and treatment, most children will grow up to become adults and lead full and active lives.
In most cases, something has gone wrong in the early development of the foetus. Some heart conditions are due to faulty genes or chromosomes. But often we don’t understand why the baby’s heart hasn’t developed normally.
If there’s a family history of congenital heart disease, the mother has diabetes during pregnancy, or the mother has taken certain medications while pregnant (anticoagulants or antiepileptics) a baby may be at slightly higher risk of congenital heart disease.
Some congenital heart problems are now picked up when the mother has an ultrasound scan during pregnancy (usually at the 20-week scan), but sometimes they are not found until after the baby has been born. Some conditions may not be discovered until the child is older or even an adult.
In babies and toddlers, congenital heart disease can have a range of symptoms because every child and condition is different. More common symptoms include extreme tiredness, poor feeding, excessive sweating, rapid heartbeat, breathing problems, chest pain and a blue tinge to the skin. If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, you should seek medical attention.
You may be asked to attend another scan with a specialist or referred to a fetal medicine unit, obstetrician or a specialist in cardiac or child medicine.
If a congenital heart condition is confirmed, you should be given a detailed description of the problem, information about any surgery that might be needed, and the overall long-term outlook.
If appropriate, specialist monitoring and care will be provided before, during and after the birth so that your baby can receive tests and treatment as soon as possible. Some heart conditions can now also be treated in-utero (in the womb) before the birth.
Your child may undergo a physical examination and heart tests such as an ECG.If the diagnosis is confirmed, they will be seen by a paediatric cardiologist, who will manage their care. You should be given a detailed description of the problem, information about any surgery that might be needed, and the overall long-term outlook for your child.
Treatment depends on the type and severity of the condition. Some children won’t require any treatment while others may need medication or heart surgery. There are also other new techniques and procedures that, in some cases, can be done instead of surgery.
Regardless, you need to consult specialized professional medical help. You will need a detailed and thorough understanding of your child’s heart and the different heart conditions. The medical professionals will discuss symptoms and treatments, and where to go for more support.