Pediatric Cardiac Surgery – Understanding Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital heart defects are a malformation in one or more structures of the heart or blood vessels that occurs before a child is born, during the development of the fetus. This developmental defect can affect approximately 8 out of every 1000 children and stems from a variety of causes. While some expectant mothers will fault their own actions when this occurs, fearing the worst for their children, modern technology has brought us to a point where traditional treatments using medication and pediatric cardiac surgery are able to correct most heart defects.

Pediatric Heart Surgery – The Underlying Cause of Congenital Heart Defects

In the majority of patients, the cause for their congenital heart defect is not directly or readily known. Through research however, pediatric specialists have discovered a number of factors that can contribute to or are associated with an increased chance of a child developing a congenital heart defect. This includes:

* Genetic abnormalities or abnormalities in the chromosomes (e.g. – Down syndrome)

* Alcohol or recreational drug use/abuse during pregnancy

* Taking certain prescription medications during pregnancy

* Viral infections during the first trimester of pregnancy, such as rubella

In cases where there is a family history of heart defects, a child has double the chance (16 in 1000) of being born with a defect that may require corrective pediatric cardiac surgery or some other form of treatment.

Defining Congenital Heart Defects

There are several defects that are detected and treated early on in infancy.

Heart Valve Defects – Any one or more of the valves in the heart may malfunction through narrowing or stenosis. Also, complete closure of a valve that impeded/prevents blood flow can occur. Other heart defects include leaky valves that don’t close. This reduces the pressure, forces the heart to work harder and allows blood to leak backwards as the chambers of the heart compress.

Patent Ductus Arteriosus – This defect allows blood to bypass the lungs as it circulates, forcing unoxygenated blood back through the body. This starves the body of oxygen and as a result the heart must work harder to oxygenate the tissues of the body.

Transposition of Greater Vessels – Blood from the left and the right side of the heart intermix because the arterial connections in the heart are incorrect.

Aortic Coarctation – This is a pinched Aorta. The narrowing of the Aorta can increase pressure and reduce circulation through the body, creating a variety of symptoms including a failure to thrive. It may also be present with no symptoms.

Pediatric Cardiac Surgery – Diagnosing Congenital Heart Disease

It’s important to note that while congenital defects typically develop early on, they can be diagnosed before birth, after birth, throughout childhood later in life when the patient is an adult. For some adults, they live with a heart defect and present with no symptoms or issues. Depending on the patient, the assumed defect, the age of child and other factors, a number of tests can be ordered to check for and confirm a diagnosis. This includes:

* Echocardiogram

* Cardiac Catheterization

* Chest X-ray

* Electrocardiogram

* MRI

Pediatric Heart Surgery & Other Treatments for Congenital Heart Defects

It’s typical for congenital heart defects in children to require pediatric cardiac surgery or some kind of interventional procedure in order to repair the defect. To ensure the heart is able to recover and grow normally after birth, children are often treated with medication to help improve the function of the heart after surgical repairs are complete.