Congenital heart defects: Know about your baby’s heart!

congenital heart defects

Amidst the amendment in Indian abortion law getting delayed to permit abortion beyond 20-weeks, the Supreme Court came to the rescue of yet another pregnant woman and allowed her to abort her 26-week foetus suffering from severe cardiac problem.

A bench of justices Dipak Misra and A M Khanwilkar permitted the abortion plea of Kolkata-based 33-year old lady on the basis of her medical report. The report said that the child, even if born alive, may not survive for a long time as the baby would have to go through multiple surgery due to congenital disorder.

What are congenital heart defects?

Heart defects that develop in the womb before the baby is born are called congenital heart defects. These defects can involve:

  • The valves inside the heart
  • The interior walls of the heart
  • The arteries and veins that carry blood to the heart or out to the body

These defects change the normal flow of blood through the heart.

There are many types of congenital heart defects. They range from simple defects with no symptoms to complex defects with severe, life-threatening symptoms.

Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect. They affect 8 of every 1,000 newborns. Many of these defects can be simple conditions and can be easily fixed or need no treatment. Whereas, babies born with complex congenital heart defects require special medical care soon after birth.

Most people with complex heart defects will need special heart care throughout their lives.

What causes congenital heart defects?

It is not necessary that a baby suffers congenital heart defect because the mother did not take care of herself during the pregnancy. Most of the time doctors do not the reason behind congenital heart defects. Kids with genetic disorders like Down syndrome, often have congenital heart defects. In fact, half of babies with Down syndrome have congenital heart defects.

Heredity might play a role in some heart defects. In some cases, smoking during pregnancy has also been linked to several congenital heart defects, including septal defects. Scientist are working on reasons behind congenital heart defects.

How are congenital heart defects diagnosed?

Diagnostic tests

1. Echocardiography

During pregnancy, if the doctor doubts that the baby has a congenital heart defect, a foetal echo can be done. This test uses sound waves to create a picture of your baby’s heart while the baby is still in the womb.

The foetal echo is usually done about 18 to 22 weeks of pregnancy. If a baby is diagnosed with a congenital heart defect before birth, the doctor can plan treatment before the baby is born.

2. Chest X-ray

A chest X-ray is a painless test that creates images of the structures in the chest, such as the heart and lungs. Chest X-ray can reflect the heart enlargement if any or extra blood flow or fluid in the lungs which can be a sign of heart failure.

3. EKG (electrocardiogram)

An electrocardiogram is painless test that checks the heart’s electrical activity. It identifies if one of the heart’s chambers is enlarged, which can help diagnose a heart problem.

4. Cardiac catheterization

During cardiac catheterization, a thin, flexible tube called a catheter is inserted into a vein in the arm, neck or groin (upper thigh) and threaded to the heart.

Special dye is injected through the catheter into a blood vessel or a chamber of the heart. The dye lets the doctor monitor the flow of blood through the heart and blood vessels on an X-ray image.

Cardiac catheterization can also be used by the doctor to measure the pressure and oxygen level inside the heart chambers and blood vessels. This can help the doctor know whether blood is mixing between the two sides of the heart.

5. Pulse oximetry

Pulse oximetry shows how much oxygen is in the blood.

The research to determine the exact causes behind congenital heart defects is still on and doctors believe it would be some years before we can finally understand them completely.