February 7-14, 2021 is Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) Awareness Week.
A CHD is a problem within the structure of the heart that is present at birth. There are many different types of CHDs, and they can vary from mild, such as a small hole in the heart, to severe, such as missing or poorly formed parts of the heart. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), CHDs are the most common birth defect, occurring in 1 out of every 110 babies born. Almost 1 out of every 4 CHDs are considered critical, or life-threatening, and require surgery or other procedures during the first year of life.
Most causes of CHDs are unknown, though some maternal risk factors such as pre-existing diabetes, tobacco use, and parental age may be associated with their occurrence. A baby’s risk is increased by 3 times if their mother, father, or sibling has a CHD. Some CHDs have been linked to certain genetic disorders such as Down syndrome.
CHDs can be detected as early as the prenatal period, during an ultrasound, or as late as adulthood. The more severe CHDs are more likely to be detected earlier. As of 2018, babies born in all states across the US receive a pulse oximetry screening to check the level of oxygen in their blood. Babies who fail this screen will then have further testing to look for a CHD or other cause of low oxygen. This simple screening has prevented around 120 infant deaths each year.
Many CHDs have no signs or symptoms and may be difficult to detect. A doctor may hear a heart murmur when listening to the heart, but that is not always the case. Babies with more severe CHDs will often develop signs soon after birth. These can include:
- Rapid breathing
- Cyanosis (a blue discoloration of the tongue, lips, skin, and/or fingernail beds)
- Poor feeding
- Poor weight gain
With medical advances, the lifespan of those living with a CHD continues to improve, but the chances of living with a CHD depends greatly on the type of CHD a person has. About 95% of patients born with non-critical CHDs are expected to survive to age 18 compared with only 69% of those with critical CHDs.
Most CHDs continue to require special surveillance throughout the lifespan. They may also require additional surgeries and procedures such as cardiac catheterization, heart surgery, or even a heart transplant. People with CHDs are also at an increased risk for other health problems such as issues with growth and development, heart failure, sudden cardiac arrest, and stroke.
You can wear red this week to support CHD awareness. To learn more, visit the resource pages.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
American Academy of Pediatrics
Photo by Aleksandra Nigmatulina on iStock