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Kids & Congenital Heart Disease: What Every Parent Should Know

Posted 1/14/2016 by UHBlog

Learn about congenital heart defects in children and the advances in discovery and treatment. Ask us.

Kids and Congenital Heart Disease: What Every Parent Should Know

Nothing compares to the joy and wonder of a baby’s birth. But sometimes that joy is mitigated by the discovery that your precious infant is born with a congenital heart defect.

Thankfully, new diagnostic screening and surgical techniques have enabled pediatric cardiologists to successfully detect and treat the vast majority of congenital heart defects. These early detection treatment methods are welcome news for the parents of children with this very common disorder.

“A congenital heart defect generally alters the flow of blood through the heart, often resulting in serious consequences,” says pediatric cardiologist Christopher Snyder, MD. “There are many types of congenital heart defects, ranging from those that pose a relatively small threat to the health of the child to those that require special medical care right after birth.”

Symptoms of a heart defect in newborns and infants may include:

  • A bluish tint to the skin, fingernails and/or lips, called cyanosis
  • Fast breathing all the time
  • Poor feeding
  • Inadequate weight gain
  • Excessive sweating with feeding

According to Dr. Snyder, the most common congenital heart defects in newborns are:

  • Ventricular septal defect, which means there is a hole in the wall separating the two lower chambers of the heart
  • Atrial septal defect, where a hole exists between the walls dividing the top two chambers of the heart
  • Patent ductus arteriosus, which causes an abnormal blood flow between two of the major arteries connected to the heart

“The good news is all of these conditions are rarely life-threatening,” he says. “Nearly every form of congenital heart disease can be treated by our UH pediatric cardiology team, which has successfully performed thousands of operations on newborns and children of all ages. We have reached a point where children who have congenital heart defects not only survive, but thrive, and grow up to lead active, productive lives.”

Many times, infants are diagnosed with heart murmurs. Most of the time, these are just “innocent” murmurs, and are noises produced by the blood flowing through a normal, healthy heart. Murmurs can come and go throughout childhood and don't pose a health threat, Dr. Snyder says.

“But sometimes a heart murmur is a warning sign of a heart abnormality in infants that may require further testing,” he says.

In fact, your infant can now be tested for congenital heart defects even when she is in the womb. A standard fetal screening test is recommended sometime between weeks 12 through 20 of pregnancy, and may pick up 60 to 70 percent of all congenital heart defects. If a heart abnormality is suspected in utero, your doctor will send you for a fetal echocardiogram. This device uses sound waves to create a picture of your baby's heart while inside your uterus.

“Even though a fetal heart is the size of a walnut, our fetal echocardiogram team can detect heart abnormalities prior to birth, allowing for faster medical or surgical intervention once the baby is born,” says Dr. Snyder.

Christopher Snyder, MD is a pediatric cardiologist and the division chief of Pediatric Cardiology at UH Cleveland Medical Center and at UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Snyder or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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