Congenital heart defects are the most common type of major birth defect, consisting of a problem in the structure of the heart. About one in every 120 babies is born with some form of heart defect. A baby’s heart begins to develop right after conception, and during development, structural defects involving the walls or the valves of the heart, as well as the arteries and veins near the heart, can occur. This article will summarize the common treatments for congenital heart defects. It is not meant to constitute or replace medical advice.
Congenital heart defects can disrupt the flow of blood through the heart, causing it to slow down, go in the wrong direction or to the wrong place, or to be blocked completely. Treatment for congenital heart defects will depend on the type and severity of the defect, as well as the child’s age, size, and health. A congenital heart defect can be as simple as a small hole between the heart chambers that closes on its own to a complex defect that requires several surgeries over several years. Many children born with complex heart defects will grow to adulthood and lead normal lives.
Treatment can include the following:
• Medication. Some mild congenital heart defects can be treated with medications to help the heart work better. These medications include diuretics, cardiac glycosides (such as digoxin), vasodilators and antiarrhythmics. Other medications may include antibiotics, prostaglandins and prostaglandin inhibitors, or anticoagulants. The kind of medications prescribed will depend on the type and size of the defect, as well as other factors. All medications used to treat congenital heart defects should be given exactly as directed by the prescribing physician.
• Surgery. Open-heart surgery may be performed to try and repair your child’s heart defect.
• Other medical procedures. Some defects may be repaired using catheterization techniques, which allow the repair to be performed without opening the chest and heart. A small catheter is inserted in the leg vein and guided to the heart with X-ray images. Tiny tools are threaded through the catheter to the heart to repair the defect.
• Heart transplants. If a serious heart defect can’t be repaired, a heart transplant may be an option.
Long term treatment. Some congenital heart defects require multiple procedures and surgeries throughout life. Only a doctor can determine what treatment is best for your child. A great source of information and resources on congenital heart defects can be found at: http://www.congenitalheartdefects.com.