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Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital offers multiple diagnostic methods and treatment approaches for congenital heart defects, depending on the type, as well as on the severity of the condition. Patients suffering from congenital heart defects can opt for surgical or catheter procedures under the guidance of the well-trained doctors and specialists at Cedars-Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital.
Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are structural problems in the heart that are present from birth. These defects may occur in the inner walls of the heart, in the heart valves, or in the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart and other parts of the body. CHDs can alter the normal blood flow through the heart, and can range from simple defects to more complex, serious, and life-threatening conditions. There are several types of congenital heart defects, most of which show no signs or symptoms. For this reason, most often CHDs are not diagnosed early in life. About eight out of 1000 newborns are affected by CHD. In the US, more than 35,000 infants are born with CHD each year. More than one million adults are living with CHD, thanks to great advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of even the most complex heart defects in recent years. The treatment for CHD is decided based on the type of defect, its severity, the child’s age, and general health condition. Most children with CHD do not require any treatment.
If a child’s congenital heart defect cannot be repaired with a catheter procedure, open heart surgery may be advised. In some cases, one surgical procedure will be sufficient to get rid of the defect, but in few children subsequent surgeries are needed to correct the defect. Open heart surgery is used to treat the following conditions:
Minimally invasive heart surgery can be used to correct some congenital heart defects, such as holes in the heart. During a minimally invasive procedure, surgeons gain access to the heart through tiny holes made in between the ribs.
Based on the type of the heart defect, cardiologists will advise the following treatment methods:
Congenital heart defects are classified into several types, ranging from simple defects such as a hole in the septum that separates the left and right side of the heart, to more complex problems that affect the location of blood vessels of the heart.
Most CHDs show no signs or symptoms. When symptoms do arise, they depend on the number, type, and severity of the defect(s). Severe heart defects may cause signs and symptoms in newborn infants, which include:
Severe CHDs are usually detected during pregnancy or soon after delivery. Mild defects go unnoticed until children grow older, due to the fact that they show no signs or symptoms. These defects are often diagnosed on the basis of the results of physical examination and tests performed for other conditions.
Physical Examination: A doctor will listen to a child’s heartbeat and breath sounds using a stethoscope and will also check whether there are signs of heart defects, such as cyanosis, troubled or fast breathing, or a delay in growth and development.
Echocardiography (Echo): This painless test uses sound waves (ultrasound) that strike the heart, which are then converted into an image of the heart with the help of a computer. This image can reveal if there are any problems with the structure and functions of the heart. During pregnancy, a fetal echo can be performed around 18-22 weeks of gestation to check if the baby has a CHD.
Electrocardiogram (EKG): This painless test records the strength and timing of the heart's electrical signals. It shows the heart rate and rhythm. And EKG can also detect the enlargement of the heart’s chambers and can help in diagnosing heart problems.
Chest X-Ray: This can reveal if there are conditions such as heart enlargement and fluid or blood accumulation within the lungs.
Pulse Oximetry: This test measures the amount of oxygen present in the blood through a small sensor that is attached to a patient's finger or toe.
Cardiac Catheterization: This procedure is done to check the oxygen level, as well as the pressure within the heart chambers and blood vessels. A thin, flexible tube is inserted into a vein in the arm, neck, or groin region, and then slowly threaded up to reach the heart. A specialized dye is then injected into a blood vessel or the heart chamber through the catheter. This dye helps the doctor differentiate between blood circulating in the heart and blood vessels on an X-ray image. This test is used to check whether the blood between the two sides of the heart is getting mixed.
Most CHDs occur as a result of problems during a baby's development. There are certain environmental and genetic risk factors that influence the development of CHD, including:
The causes for CHDs in most infants are unknown. A mutation in the individual genes or chromosomes is the reason for heart defects in some infants. For instance, a parent with CHD is more likely to have a baby born with heart defects. Therefore, heredity plays a significant role in CHD. Environmental factors, such as the mother's health condition, diet, and use of medications have also been linked to the development of CHD. If health problems, such as pre-existing diabetes and obesity are present in the mother, there is a higher likelihood of CHD in the baby. Smoking during pregnancy is another factor linked with CHD and septal defects.
Alternative treatment methods are not widely used to treat heart conditions, as specific structural changes in the heart tend to require surgical repair. Always talk to your doctor before starting any alternative therapy. Often, doctors suggest complementary therapies, such as relaxation therapy or massage, which help minimize the symptoms and contribute to a patient's overall health. Some complimentary therapies used to treat CHDs are:
Although the exact cause for most CHDs remains unknown, there are some preventive measures that can lower a child’s risk of developing heart defects:
Are you concerned about congenital heart defects? Our specially trained cardiologists can answer questions and provide detailed information about CDH and its treatment.