Congenital Heart Defect

Congenital Heart Disease

 This is a problem that occurs as the baby’s heart is developing during pregnancy, before the baby is born. Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defects.A baby’s heart begins to develop at conception, but is completely formed by eight weeks into the pregnancy. Congenital heart defects happen during this crucial first eight weeks of the baby’s development. Specific steps must take place in order for the heart to form correctly. Often, congenital heart defects are a result of one of these crucial steps not happening at the right time. For example, a hole is left where a dividing wall should have formed, or a single blood vessel is left, where two should have been.

What Causes Congenital Heart Disease?

The vast majority of congenital heart defects have no known cause. Mothers will often wonder if something they did during the pregnancy caused the heart problem. In most cases, no specific cause can be found. Some heart problems do occur more often in families, so there may be a genetic link to some heart defects. Some heart problems are likely to occur if the mother had a disease while pregnant and was taking medications, such as antiseizure medicines or the acne medication isotretinoin. However, most of the time, there is no identifiable reason as to why the heart defect occurred.

Congenital heart problems range from simple to complex. Some heart problems can be watched by the baby’s doctor and managed with medicines, while others will require surgery, sometimes as soon as in the first few hours after birth. A baby may even “grow out” of some of the simpler heart problems, such as patent ductus arteriosus or atrial septal defect. These defects may simply close up on their own with growth. Other babies will have a combination of defects and require several operations throughout their

What are the different types of congenital heart defects?

We can classify congenital heart defects into several categories in order to better understand the problems the baby will experience. They include:

  • Problems that cause too much blood to pass through the lungs. These defects allow oxygen-rich blood that should be traveling to the body to recirculate through the lungs, causing increased pressure and stress in the lungs.
  • Problems that cause too little blood to pass through the lungs. These defects allow blood that has not been to the lungs to pick up oxygen (and, therefore, is oxygen-poor) to travel to the body. The body does not receive enough oxygen with these heart problems, and the baby may be cyanotic, or have a blue coloring.
  • Problems that cause too little blood to travel to the body. These defects are a result of underdeveloped chambers of the heart or blockages in blood vessels that prevent the proper amount of blood from traveling to the body to meet its needs.
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