What is congenital heart disease in children?

congenital heart disease, one of the most common birth defects, is a set of defects that affects the way in which the heart develops and functions from birth.

While heart diseases are generally known to affect people of age 60 and above, and may develop in people with family history or those leading a stressful lifestyle, some children are born with heart defects. Congenital heart disease refers to a range of birth defects that affect the way heart works.

According to a recent study, every year more than 2,00,000 children in India are born with congenital heart disease, 1/5th of whom are likely to be in a serious condition requiring surgery within a year of birth.

“The term ‘congenital’ means ‘present from birth’. Congenital heart disease, one of the most common birth defects, is a set of defects that affects the way in which the heart develops and functions from birth and has the capacity to change the way blood flows through a person’s heart. They may be acyanotic CHD (pink babies) or cyanotic CHD (blue babies).

Symptoms of congenital heart disease

Some of the key symptoms are of CHD are:

Repeated respiratory tract infections

Rapid heartbeat and breathing

Swelling of legs, tummy, or around the eyes

Fatigue

Bluish discolouration of skin/nails/lips/tongue, known as ‘Cyanosis’

Fast breathing or easy fatigability while feeding

Inability or reduced ability to exercise or play, compared to peers of same age group

Some of the factors that could increase the risk of a child developing CHD are:

Most CHD issues occur early as a child’s heart begins developing before birth. Even though the exact cause of CHDs may be unknown, there are some risk factors that could play a role:

Smoking and drinking alcohol during pregnancy

Certain medications consumed during pregnancy

Diabetic mother

Mother affected with Rubella (German measles) during pregnancy

Smelling or consumption of harmful substances during pregnancy

Genetic factors or syndromes

Treatment for congenital heart disease

According to Dr Pandya, various treatment options are available to diagnose and treat congenital heart defects including medicines, catheter procedures and surgery. Some defects require multiple staged procedures and some need staged palliative procedures, he says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 97% of babies born with a non-critical CHD are likely to survive to one year of age and around 95% of babies born with a non-critical CHD are likely to survive to 18 years of age. However, it is very important that these children are followed up regularly.

Is there any way to diagnose these defects during pregnancy?

Yes, getting an anomaly scan or foetal echocardiography at 18-20 weeks of pregnancy (5th month of pregnancy) helps to pick up and diagnose heart defects while the child is in the mother’s womb. This is very important and helps the treating team and parents to decide on steps to take in the future regarding these defects. Some children may need a surgical procedure soon after birth and thus it is important that the delivery takes place at a centre with paediatric cardiac services (paediatric cardiology and paediatric cardiac surgery) for back up.

Are children with CHD more prone to getting affected by Covid-19?

Children with CHD or post operative cases of CHD are known to have a higher chances for severe disease. Extra care to avoid infection and treat respiratory infections early on is imperative.

How can children suffering from congenital heart diseases be protected from Covid-19?

Important measures that should be adopted are masking, social distancing and good hand hygiene. Regular health checks and teleconsultations with your doctor can prove to be useful. Also, it is advisable to consult your doctor before getting your child vaccinated and complete immunization of your child as per schedule.

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