Did you know that every 1 in 4 babies born with a heart defect suffers from critical congenital heart disease (critical CHD or CCHD)? In fact, in the United States alone, about 40,000 babies are born with critical CHDs and nearly 30% die due to abnormalities in the heart – an alarming number that’s sufficient enough to stress on the importance of getting your newborn screened for a variety of genetic and other congenital heart disorders.
This American Heart Month, let’s raise awareness about congenital heart disease, its signs and symptoms, and how it affects the babies, and take a pledge to protect the little hearts by getting our newborns screened for Critical CHD.
What is Critical Congenital Heart Disease?
Critical congenital heart disease refers to a series of heart defects that encompass a wide array of structural heart problems and abnormalities in the rhythm of the heart. It is the most common type of heart defect and may involve holes in the heart, abnormal or complete absence of heart chambers, abnormal connections in the heart, and/or abnormalities in the function of the heart. All of these congenital heart conditions are serious and life-threatening and require immediate intervention within the first few days or years of life.
Signs and Symptoms of Critical CHD
CCHD is associated with hypoxemia – insufficient levels of oxygen in the blood or tissues – and most newborns show various signs and symptoms for critical congenital heart disease. These include:
- Rapid or troubled breathing
- Loss of skin color
- Swelling on the face, hands, legs, feet, and around the eyes
- Cyanosis (blue discoloration of skin, lips, and fingernails)
- Breathlessness during feeding sessions
- Sweating around the head, especially during feeding
- Weight loss or poor weight gain
Parents should carefully watch their newborns for these signs and symptoms and should get in touch with their pediatrician for further investigation and diagnosis.
How CHDs affect the baby?
Congenital heart diseases can affect different parts of your baby’s heart as well as the regular flow of blood from the heart, causing the blood to slow down, flow into the wrong veins, or be blocked completely.
Critical CHDs affect the:
- Septum: The wall that divides the right and the left sides of the heart.
- Heart valves: They control the amount of blood flowingto and from the heart.
- Arteries and veins: Arteries carry blood from the heart to the body and veins carry blood from the body to the heart.
What Causes CHD in Babies
While doctors are still not able to know the exact reason behind critical CHDs, the following conditions do increase the risk of developing CCHDs in newborns:
- Diabetes Miletus: A mother with a long standing history of Diabetes Miletus may give birth to a child with congenital heart defects.
- Rubella: If you are infected with rubella virus within the first 3 months of pregnancy, the chances of heart defects in your newborn increase manifold.
- Obesity: The higher the body mass index (BMI) of the mother, the higher is the chance for the newborn to be born with congenital heart disease.
- Gene mutation: A mutated gene may also lead to congenital heart defects.
- Hereditary factors: Heart defects are hereditary too. If one of the partners is suffering from CCHD, the baby might inherit the heart defects too.
- Lifestyle and environment: Stress, smoke, alcohol, supplements, over-the-counter drugs and herbal remedies may increase your baby’s risk of developing congenital heart defects.
If you are suffering from any of these conditions, get in touch with EPIC Health team for comprehensive support and round-the-clock assistance.
Screening for Critical Congenital Heart Defects
Critical CHD is a symptomatic disease and most newborns are easily identified for having congenital heart disorders soon after birth or during pregnancy via fetal echocardiogram. But, many babies affected with CCHD look and act healthy and may often go undetected. Therefore, considering the severity of the condition, it is more than important for every newborn to be screened for critical congenital heart defects before he or she is of 24 hours of age.
Pulse Oximetry – a non-invasive test that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood – is the most common clinical procedure that’s performed to identify babies affected with CCHD. The test is used to detect seven different types of critical congenital heart defects, including:
- Hypoplastic left heart syndrome
- Pulmonary atresia
- Tetralogy of Fallot
- Total anomalous pulmonary venous return
- Transposition of the great arteries
- Tricuspid atresia
- Truncus arteriosus
A baby that passes the test is unlikely to have CCHD. But, the baby that fails the screening (also known as positive or out of range results) has CCHD and may require further investigation or more detailed, specific tests like echocardiogram to diagnose the exact congenital defect.
Fighting with CCHD
Dealing with the dreadful congenital heart disease is like entering a whole new, unknown territory. You are forced to take multiple decisions related to your child’s life and the surgeries involved. Even under tremendous pressure and emotional strain, you are required to take the right decisions, which include finding the right hospital, an experienced pediatric cardiologist, and a highly skilled pediatric surgeon who will take your child on to the road of recovery.
At EPIC Health, we can be your partners in cardiovascular health. We understand that pediatric heart care is a team effort; that’s why, we have a dedicated and highly experienced team of gynecologists, pediatric cardiologists, nurses, intensivists, dietitians, and exercise physiologists who provide the best possible care and service to both the mother and the baby alike. We are fully equipped with all the latest tools and cutting edge technology to provide our neonatal patients with intensive cardiac care procedures for their overall well being.
EPIC Health team works with you and your family to create an individualized treatment plan that best suits you and your baby. Along the way, we also educate you about the importance of early detection, treatment plans, and ways to cope up with CCHD to help you and your child live a fuller, healthier life.