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Congenital Heart Defects: A Perspective

Congenital Heart Defects

She was their first born. A bundle of joy who was born about a month too early. She looked so delicate and small in the incubator! She would stay in the incubator for 3 days before being left with her mom. She went home 6 days after she was born. On the 10th day, she was taken to meet the Paediatrician for a routine visit and a vaccination. The visit however, did not turn out to be routine. The Paediatrician spent a long time listening to her little heart with a stethoscope. She wrote out a prescription to get an Echocardiogram done and to meet a Cardiologist ….. this came as a shock to the parents! Their little girl looked absolutely normal to them. They were too shocked to ask any questions. They mechanically went about getting the appointment with the Cardiologist for the next day in one of the best paediatric cardiac care centres in the country.

Day 11 of her life was a nightmare for her parents – the infant had to undergo an ECG (electrocardiogram), a chest X-ray and finally an Echocardiogram. When they met the cardiologist with all the reports, the verdict was that the child was born with a congenital heart defect called Atrial Septal Defect (ASD).

I am given to understand that the incidence of such heart defects at birth ranges from 4 in 1000 to 50 in 1000 live births according to different reports. But many cases go undetected because there is no access to regular health checks for the child or simply because the defects do not manifest in any manner – they are silent. How would parents then be able to suspect that something may be wrong with the child? Dr. Narendra. V, Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon practicing in Bangalore, India, says that some of the common signs that can actually point to heart defects in infants include excessive crying, breathlessness during feeding, bluish discoloration of the lips, tongue or fingers and excessive chest in-drawing during breathing. If any of these signs are observed in an infant, it would be prudent to seek medical advice.

There are many types of heart defects that can occur at birth, but the good news is that most of them can be treated. Dr. Prasad Manne, Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist practicing in Chennai, India, says that some of the latest treatment modalities to treat these defects include Interventional catheterization – melody pulmonary valvuloplasty, percutaneous valvuloplasty, circulatory support in children, single ventricle surgery in failing fontan, imaging in congenital heart disease-MRI, etc. This is apart from the various conventional treatment methods that are already available to treat these conditions.

The key here is early diagnosis. Many a time these defects go undiagnosed until the person is well into adulthood due to the silent nature of the defect. There are also instances where these defects repair themselves without the need for any intervention. Time is of essence for the diagnosis and treatment of these heart defects. If they are life-threatening, the earlier they are diagnosed and treated, the better it is for the child.

As we commemorate Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Week from 7th to 14th February, it is important to educate parents and would-be parents about these heart defects so that they are in a position to understand the symptoms and take action if necessary.

Coming back to the story I was narrating to you, she is going to be 10 years old in a few days from now. The Cardiologist was of the opinion that the defect in her heart (a hole in the wall of the heart to put it simply) was a small one and that the plan was to wait and watch. She went for cardiac checks at the age of 1 year, 2 years, 3 years and 5 years. There was not much of a change in her heart condition. But she was growing normally – her defect seemed to be the silent type that did not throw up any symptoms. When she went for a check at the age of 7 years, the Paediatric Cardiologist said to the parents: “You needn’t come to see me anymore”.… the parents were a bit confused. She elaborated to say that the defect was no longer there and that the child’s heart had repaired itself!! This was the best thing the parents had heard in a long time!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any governmental/other agency. This article contains facts that have been obtained from reliable sources but may be subject to change with time. The author will not be responsible in any way for the comments given by reader/s.

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