Congenital Heart Defect Awareness

Congenital heart defects threaten the lives of 40,000 newborns every year in the U.S.

In Michigan alone, more than 1,700 babies are born with a heart defect each year. To help bring awareness to this, the American Heart Association in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Community Health has officially proclaimed the second week of February a week to better educate residents of the symptoms and treatments of Congenital Heart Defects (CHDs) and bring more attention to preventive measures and existing treatments.

Congenital heart defects are structural problems with the heart present at birth.

They result when a mishap occurs during heart development soon after conception and often before the mother is aware that she is pregnant. 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.

The Heart Association wants new parents to know, there is a simple inexpensive screening that hospitals can do on all newborns.

A pulse oximetry screening test, or more commonly known as a Pulse Ox test, can show if there is a potential problem with a newborn’s heart. It can be helpful in diagnosing undetected critical congenital heart defects. All parents should request that this screening be completed on their newborn while in the hospital.

Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week is be held every Feb. 7-14 each year, the second week of American Heart Month.

The week is sponsored by the Congenital Heart Information Network and the American Heart Association.

About Congenital Heart Defects

The word “congenital” means existing at birth. The terms “congenital heart defect” and “congenital heart disease” are often used to mean the same thing, but “defect” is more accurate.

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.

Common types of defects

Congenital heart defects are structural problems arising from abnormal formation of the heart or major blood vessels. At least 18 distinct types of congenital heart defects are recognized, with many additional anatomic variations. Recent progress in diagnosis and treatment (surgery and heart catheterization) makes it possible to fix most defects, even those once thought to be hopeless.

The Outlook

If a child is born with a heart defect today, the chances are better than ever that the problem can be overcome and that a normal adult life will follow. As diagnosis and treatment continue to advance, scientists will develop better treatments for these and other defects.

Understand the Risk

Up to 1.3 million Americans alive today have some form of congenital heart defect. In the United States, about 36,000 children are born with a heart defect each year. At least nine of every 1,000 infants born each year have a heart defect. The causes of congenital heart disease are still under investigation, but scientists and physicians are making progress.

Causes of Heart Defects

Many times, experts don’t know the exact cause of most heart defects. Although the reason defects occur is presumed to be genetic, only a few genes have been discovered that have been linked to the presence of heart defects. So they’re likely due to a combination of multiple genetic and environmental factors. There’s usually a 2 to 15 percent chance of a heart defect happening again in the family. The odds depend on what type of defect the parents have and whether anyone else in the family has a heart defect.

Symptoms & Diagnosis

Congenital heart defects are often diagnosed in infancy, or even before birth. But some defects are harder to detect than others and may not be diagnosed until much later in childhood or even adulthood.

Diagnosing Children

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 check up. Minor defects rarely cause symptoms. While most heart murmurs in children are normal, some may be due to defects.

If the heart problem is significant, the child’s pediatrician or family physician will likely refer the child to a pediatric cardiologist. They have the training and equipment to find out what tests and treatments the child will need, and how often your child will need heart checkups in the future.

Care and Treatment

Not all people with congenital heart defects require treatment. Some may only need to be observed and visit their cardiologist. In other cases, surgery or a cardiac catheterization may be needed to reduce the effects of and/or repair the defect. Even when a defect is treated as a child, further conditions may develop that would benefit from additional medical treatment.