Congenital Heart Defect - Medical Malpractice Lawyers
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Congenital Heart Defect - Overview
When a child has been diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, it means that a structural change has happened to the child’s heart and this defect has developed since the prenatal years. Knowing the defect is coming will help the parents know the prognosis in advance, while the doctors can prepare for a possible surgery at the time or before birth. Remember that not all congenital heart defects need treatment; some problems correct themselves over time.
Very serious congenital heart problems usually show up within a month or so of life, although it can show up at the time of birth. Obvious signs and symptoms include the following:
- Cyanosis of the skin
- Loss of healthy skin tone
- Leg, facial or abdominal swelling
- Shortness of breath at feeding time
- Rapid breathing
Some congenital heart defects are less serious and aren’t found until late in childhood. The signs and symptoms showing up in late life include:
- Tiring during exercise
- Shortness of breath during activity
- Fluid build-up in the lungs or around the heart
- Fluid in the ankles, hands or feet
The heart is divided into four chambers that move blood around the heart. The left side of the heart contains oxygenated blood, while the right side of the heart carries de-oxygenated blood. In the womb, the heart starts beating at 22 days post-conception and it has a simple tube-like shape. By the time the embryo reaches 28 days post-conception, the heart will be roughly the shape of a real heart; this is when holes and abnormalities in shape begin.
The following are the different types of heart defects:
- There can be holes in the heart that allow the oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor types of blood to mix with one another. The baby has bluish discoloration underneath the nails and around the mouth. Congestive heart failure can occur in this type of heart defect. Examples of defects involving a hole in the heart involve a patent ductus arteriosus, between the pulmonary artery and the aorta, a ventricular septal defect, between the ventricles, and an atrial septal defect, between the atria.
- There can be a blockage that obstructs blood flow so that the heart has to work extra hard in order to get the blood through. Examples include a case of pulmonary stenosis, which is narrowing of the pulmonary artery and aortic stenosis, which is blockage of the aortic valve due to a congenital heart defect of the valve.
- Abnormal blood vessels can happen before or after the valve. There can be transposition of the great vessels, in which the pulmonary artery and the aorta are mixed up. It can be life-threatening as can coarctation of the aorta, which is a cause of high blood pressure.
- Heart valve abnormalities are relatively common. The valve cannot open or close properly and the blood doesn’t flow correctly or smoothly. Any of the heart valves can be abnormal but especially the aortic and pulmonary valves.
- There can be a mixture of defects. An example of this involves the tetralogy of Fallot, which involves a hole in the septum of the ventricle, a blockage between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery, a thickened right ventricular muscle and a connection shift between the heart and the aorta.
There are several risk factors of the fetus and of the mother that predisposes the fetus from developing congenital heart failure. These risk factors include:
- Having rubella or German measles in pregnancy.
- Suffering from diabetes in pregnancy.
- Taking certain medications in pregnancy that cause congenital heart defects, such a thalidomide and anti-seizure medications.
- Drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
- Having Down syndrome or other genetic disease in utero.
Complications of congenital heart disease can include having congestive heart failure, a slowing of growth and development, having frequent cases of pneumonia, having a heart rhythm, cyanotic extremities or around the heart, or having a stroke.
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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here