Congenital Heart Disease is a problem involving one or more parts of the heart or blood vessels, occurring before birth. Approximately 8 out of every 1,000 children get this disease. There may have symptoms at birth, but some people don’t have symptoms until childhood or even adulthood. In most cases, we don’t know why it happens. Genetics may be an internal factor, or it can happen if a baby is exposed to external factors such as viral infections, alcohol, or drugs before it’s born.
Most congenital heart problems are structural issues such as holes and leaks. This can include heart valve defects, problems with the heart wall, heart muscle issues, or bad connections among blood vessels. These issues can prevent the heart from pumping blood efficiently, create leaks and backflow, or even cause blood to mix when it shouldn’t. If not treated these problems can lead to heart or other organ failure. Additionally, people with congenital heart defects are more likely to have endocarditis (an infection in the inner layer of the heart).
While often the causes congenital heart defects are unknown, they tend to be genetic. Factors that increase the likelihood include genetic problems in the child (such as Down syndrome), medication, drug, or alcohol use during pregnancy, or certain viral infections (like rubella) during the first trimester or pregnancy.
It is possible to have a congenital heart defect without symptoms. Some common symptoms include shortness of breath and problems while exercising. In infants and children other symptoms include poor weight gain or feeding, fast breathing, and an inability to exercise. A doctor can diagnose a congenital heart defect by taking an echocardiogram (ultrasound pictures of the heart), cardiac catheterization (x-ray videos taken of dye introduced into the heart), or chest x-rays. Sometimes a combination of methods must be used for diagnosis.
Treatment can range from monitoring by a heart specialist to medications, surgery, or other procedures. Congenital heart disease requires visits with a heart specialist on a regular basis.
If you have a congenital heart defect, there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself. Communicate with all providers, including dentists, about your condition. Take good care of your teeth and gum to prevent infections, and contact your provider if you develop symptoms of an infection (sore throat, general body aches, fever). Your provider may recommend taking antibiotics before any medical work that may cause bleeding.