Congenital Heart Defects

By Ifeyinwa Ugo-Amadi

The heart is a muscular organ which pumps blood through the blood vessels to the rest of the body. It is divided into four hollow chambers – the two chambers at the right moves blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen back to the heart while the two at the left pump the oxygenated blood to the body from the heart. Cardiovascular diseases which include heart diseases and stroke are the leading cause of death globally, killing 17.3m people annually. The myth that cardiovascular diseases affect mostly older affluent male populations has been debunked by the fact that children and women are victims. Cardiovascular diseases are known to kill more women compared to malaria, tuberculosis, cancer and HIV/AIDS combined. Children are also vulnerable to heart diseases as 1.35m babies are born with congenital heart diseases every year.
Congenital Heart Defect is an abnormality in the structure of the heart that is present at birth. The heart defects develop when the heart does not divide distinctly into its four chambers. It can affect the blood vessels that carry blood to and from the heart, interior walls (septum) of the heart or valves in the heart. Research has shown that medication (or drugs such as alcohol and tobacco), medical conditions (such as infections contracted by the mother during pregnancy) or genetics (closely related parents etc) may be responsible.
Congenital Heart defects can vary from small to severe abnormalities. They include:
·         Hole in the heart (Septal defects) such as arterial septal defect and ventricular septal defect.
·         Patent ductus arteriosus: The ductus arteriosus ought to close after birth. When it doesn’t close, blood flows to the lungs rather than body.
·         Narrowed valves which could include the following defects: regurgitation, stenosis and atresia.
·         Tetralogy of fallot: This is a combination of four defects which results in insufficient amount of oxygenated blood reaching the body.
Based on the severity of the defect, symptoms may or may not be observed. Symptoms include bluish nails or lips, fast or troubled breathing, heart murmur, poor growth or feeding, tiredness when feeding and sleepiness. Treatment may involve an open heart surgery or the use of cardiac catheterization. Some may improve without any form of treatment.


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