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Congenital heart defects in children

Congenital heart defects in children - What it is

Congenital heart defect in children occurs when a child was is born with a problem in the structure of the heart.

Some cases of congenital heart defects in children are simple and do not require treatment, while other congenital heart defects in children are more complex and may need several surgeries for treatment.

Congenital heart defects in children - Symptoms

Cases of serious congenital heart defects usually cause clear signs and symptoms after the child’s birth or during the first few months of life. Some symptoms include:

  • Breathing rapidly
  • Flared nostrils
  • Grunting when breathing
  • Blue or pale grey skin colour
  • Swelling in the legs, abdomen or areas around the eyes
  • Shortness of breath during feedings, resulting in poor weight gain

On the other hand, less serious congenital heart defects cases may not be diagnosed until later in childhood, when symptoms begin to develop in older children. These symptoms include:

  • Easily becoming short of breath and tired during physical activities
  • Swelling in the hands, ankles or feet

Congenital heart defects in children - How to prevent?

Congenital heart defects in children - Causes and Risk Factors

The heart begins to develop and starts beating during the first six weeks of pregnancy. During this time period, the heart’s major blood vessels also begin to take shape. In addition, it is at this point in the baby's development that heart defects may begin to develop.

Most congenital heart defects result from complications early in the heart development during childhood. While the cause for most cases is unknown, certain genetic and environmental factors may play a role. These risk factors include:

  • Diabetes
  • Drinking alcohol during pregnancy
  • Smoking during pregnancy
  • Heredity

Congenital heart defects in children - Diagnosis

The doctor may first suspect a problem when hearing a heart murmur during a routine exam with a stethoscope. Heart murmurs are sounds which occur when blood flows abnormally in or near the heart. While heart murmurs may be a sign of heart abnormality due to a heart defect, most heart murmurs are not harmful and does not mean that heart defect is present. 

To further examine if the child has a heart defect, the doctor may order several diagnostic tests for the patient. These tests include:

Congenital heart defects in children - Treatments

For certain congenital heart defects in children, there may have no significant effect on the child's health, and the defect can be left untreated. Some defects, such as small holes, can even correct themselves as the child ages.

However, some cases of congenital heart defects are more critical and require immediate treatment. Depending on the severity of heart defect the child has, treatment for congenital heart defects include:
For some cases, a combination of treatments is required. Certain catheter or surgical procedures also have to be carried out in steps or over a longer time period. Some treatments may need to be repeated as a child grows.

Children with congenital heart defects may require treatment throughout life, especially for conditions which are more severe. It is important to take note of the following considerations:
  • Long term monitoring and treatment – While the recoveries for children with heart defects have improved greatly, many patients with serious conditions will need continuous care and monitoring, even after their surgical treatments. 
  • Preventing Infection – In some congenital heart defect cases, there can be increased risk of infections in the lining of the heart or heart valves. Hence, the child patient may need to take antibiotics to prevent infection before other surgeries or dental procedures. Patients with a heart device may also have a higher risk of infection. Seek your doctor’s advice to check if antibiotics are necessary.
  • Exercise restrictions – Some children may need to limit the type or amount of exercise, while many others can participate in normal activities. Seek your doctor’s advice for activities suitable for the patient.

Congenital heart defects in children - Preparing for surgery

Congenital heart defects in children - Post-surgery care

As treatment for children with congenital heart defects may a life-long process,  regular monitoring is essential after surgeries or medication, and children who have heart defects should be mindful of their conditions.  Most patients with congenital heart defects will have to be seen regularly by a cardiologist throughout their lives.

Congenital heart defects in children - Other Information

The information provided is not intended as medical advice. Terms of use. Information provided by SingHealth

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