|Q. How common are congenital heart defects?
A. Congenital birth defects comprise the single most common category of birth defects in American children. In fact, one in 100 live births is affected by some form of congenital heart defect.
Q. What are some common congenital heart defects?
A. Atrial and ventricular septal defects are holes in the heart which affect the blood supply out of the heart. Patent ductus arteriosus, a common defect in premature infants, occurs when blood flows between the aorta and the pulmonary artery through an open passageway which normally closes within a few hours of birth. Pulmonary, aortic and subaortic stenosis and coarctation of the aorta are obstructions which restrict blood supply to the rest of the body. Tetrology of Fallot has four components, a ventricular septal defect (VSD), pulmonary valve stenosis, an abnormally muscular right ventricle and the placement of the aorta directly above the VSD. Common acquired diseases include cardiomyopathy, or heart muscle abnormalities, viral myocarditis and arrhythmias.
How are these defects diagnosed?
Pediatric cardiologists use sophisticated, non-invasive imaging technology to assess, diagnose and monitor a variety of cardiac problems in pediatric patients such as transthoracic and transesophageal echocardiography, and magnetic resonance imaging. Fetal echocardiography helps physicians to detect and monitor malformations during pregnancy which facilitates appropriate prenatal care and early intervention.
What are some of the treatments?
Technological advances in non-surgical interventions such as catheter-based treatments for closing atrial and ventricular septal defects have enabled physicians to treat a variety of congenital heart defects early in the course of the disease and in many cases, without surgery. Other interventions include coil occlusion of patent ductus arteriosis and systemic arteries, stenting and balloon dilation of obstructed pulmonary and venous pathways, and radiofrequency ablation of arrhythmias.
How is surgery performed on pediatric patients?
Minimally invasive surgical techniques which have been used widely in adult cardiac surgery are now being applied to infants and children with results that are comparable to standard procedures. These techniques avoid the traditional splitting of the breastbone characteristic of standard open-heart surgery by performing the surgery through a much smaller incision through the ribs, sparing patients the pain and trauma of open-chest surgery. This approach speeds recovery so that children can return to school and play much sooner, often within a week after open heart surgery.
Sources: American Heart Association; NYU Medical Center Pediatric Cardiology Program