Heart ailments are not restricted to the aged. 7 in 1,000 children suffer from, and are fighting with, various congenital heart defects
When Priya was told that her unborn child was suffering from a heart defect, her world crashed down. “How can someone so young have such an ailment? Will my child survive?” she was terrified. “Congenital heart defects refer to any anomalies in the heart by birth. These anomalies are usually structural defects,” says Dr Anil SR, paediatric cardiologist and consultant, Apollo Hospital. These anomalies may either obstruct the blood flow or cause an improper flow pattern.
Types of heart defects
Congenital heart defects can be of various kinds. “These defects can be in different parts of the heart such as the muscle, valves, chamber and septa,” says Dr Y Suman Vyas, consultant paediatric cardiologist, Star Hospitals. “Congenital heart defects are of two types, the first is known as blue babies and the other the non-blue babies which is the more common one and includes ailments such as hole in the heart, PDA, ASD and VSD,” says Dr Nitin Rao, consultant paediatric cardiologist, Star Hospitals.
The symptoms of CHD depend upon the type of defects. In many cases it is said that the problem shows no symptoms till very late. “The symptoms for congenital heart defects could include fever, cough, bluish discolouration,” says Dr Anil. Dr Nitin says, “Children with heart defects may have a problem in feeding such that they may have an irregular feeding pattern with breaks to breathe every half a minute. Such children will also show a failure to gain weight due to this reason itself. They may also be prone to repeated infections.” According to Dr Suman the other symptoms could include increased respiratory rate, excessive sweat during feeding and respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia.
“Only in 10 per cent of the cases can the cause be found. The reasons could be genetic or due to marrying close relatives or a general family history. The other causes could include infections during pregnancy and also certain drugs. If a pregnant woman is suffering from fits then she is given medication which might be a cause,” says Dr Nitin. Dr Suman adds that apart from these regular reasons, pollution, chemical reactions could also be a responsible.
“CHD can be detected in the foetal stage itself through a foetal echo that can be done in the fourth or the fifth month. Only if it is a major defect can it be seen at that time,” says Dr Nitin.
Dr Suman adds that although not much can be done at that point of time, the parents and doctors can be better prepared and look out for a hospital and provisions where in the paediatric services available are much better so that the treatment can begin once the child is born.
Dr Nitin says, “In cases where the problem is minor, treatment may not be required. If the problem is major surgery may also be suggested.”
Surgery for CHD is done by a paediatric cardiological surgeon. “In most cases where treatment is provided or surgery is conducted the result is often good. If the problem is just a hole in the heart than the recovery is said to be good. It depends on case to case. In some cases the hole closes on the own and in some other cases they don’t. The doctors may depending on the case even ask the patient to come after some time, but is there is no proper follow up than chances of serious problems are there,” says Dr Suman.
The recovery of a child depends on the case and treatment. Dr Nitin says that if the procedure is simple the child may recover faster but blue babies may take a longer time to recover. It also depends on their resistance. Nowadays there are many non-surgical methods also being employed for treatment in the form of devices.
Once a child is provided treatment, in most cases they can lead a normal life apart from the regular follow ups.
Although CHD cannot be prevented, certain precautions can be taken. Dr Suman says, “If a pregnant woman is diabetic she needs to take special care so that she does not develop infections. Expectant mothers should also avoid medication, smoking, alcohol and should follow a nutritious diet. If a woman who has a family history of CHD than she may be advised to take folic acid capsules, six weeks before even planning to conceive a child. These methods are not 100 per cent effective but may reduce the chances.”