My Child Has a Heart Defect. Now What?

My Child Has a Heart Defect. Now What?

Of every 1,000 births in the United States, about nine babies are born with congenital heart defects. A congenital heart defect is a problem that originated when a baby’s heart was developing in the womb, and it’s the most common birth defect in the country.

A baby’s heart is fully developed by the 8th week of pregnancy, and congenital heart defects form some time between conception and week 8. Most of the time, there’s no clear cause for congenital heart defects — but they can have a significant impact on a child’s health. 

As a leading cardiologist, Kunal Patel, MD, specializes in heart care for people of all ages at NJ Cardiovascular Institute, with offices in Secaucus, Paramus, Lakewood, and Newark, New Jersey. If you recently found out your child has a heart defect, learn more about what to do next.

Understand the types of congenital heart defects

A congenital heart defect can occur when your baby’s heart doesn’t develop exactly like it should. There are at least 18 different types of congenital heart conditions, some more severe than others.

Every baby is unique, and some have a combination of conditions. If your baby is diagnosed with a heart defect, it’s important to ask questions and understand exactly what their diagnosis means.

The types of congenital heart defects can be grouped into three main categories.

The first category includes conditions that cause too much blood to flow through your baby’s lungs. These conditions can cause lung and respiratory stress, because oxygen-rich blood circulates through the lungs without traveling to other parts of the body.

Another category includes various heart conditions that cause too little blood to flow to the lungs. With this type of heart defect, the baby’s blood is oxygen-poor and their body doesn’t get enough oxygen.

The third main category of congenital heart defects includes conditions that cause too little blood to travel throughout the body. The baby’s heart may not be strong enough to pump blood to the rest of their body.

Signs of heart defects in babies

Some types of heart defects can be identified before the baby is born, using a fetal echocardiogram. However, many babies are diagnosed with heart defects after they’re born and they begin exhibiting symptoms of heart problems.

Signs of a congenital heart defect may include:

Not every type of congenital heart defect causes symptoms, so it’s important to talk with your child’s pediatrician about their risk.

Care for your child and their heart defect

Learning that your child has a heart defect can be scary, but today’s medical technology means that you have treatment options available to you. An estimated three in four babies born with heart defects don’t need surgery or other medical procedures during their first year of life.

If your baby is diagnosed with a critical congenital heart defect, they may need surgery or another procedure to improve the way their heart functions. Your child’s pediatrician and their health care team will talk with you about your options for care.

Some children may need one or more surgeries to repair the structure and function of their hearts. Surgery isn’t always necessary, as some procedures can be done via a minimally invasive procedure called cardiac catheterization.

The goal of surgery and other treatments is to improve your child’s heart function. However, many congenital heart defects can’t be cured. Your child can live a long, healthy life, but they may need ongoing heart care with a trained cardiologist like Dr. Patel.

Dr. Patel provides personalized heart care for our patients at NJ Cardiovascular Institute. Schedule a consultation to learn more and meet our team. Call the office nearest you or book online now.

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