Congenital heart defects affect nearly one in 100 births every year in the U.S.
COLORADO SPRINGS -
Congenital heart defects affect nearly one in 100 births every year in the U.S. and are the most common type of birth defect. Most heart defects are caught during pregnancy, but some are not.
Hani Najm, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s said it’s important for parents to know the warning signs of heart defects that may appear in the first months of life.
“The first thing is what we call cyanosis, or the baby turning blue, especially when they cry,” said Dr. Najm. “This is not normal. Babies should not turn blue when they cry. So if they do, that’s abnormal, that’s the saturation in the blood – that means there’s some mixing, there’s some Abnormality.”
Babies born with cyanotic heart defects have blue and red blood mix, which is more life-threatening than acyanotic heart defects, which are more common and often involve defects in the wall that separates the lower chambers of the heart. Dr. Najm said another important warning sign that parents need to know about is what doctor’s call ‘failure to thrive.’
“What we look for is thriving, which means that they are actually putting on weight, when they are feeding well and so and so,” said Dr. Najm. “Failure to thrive is one of the most common symptoms of babies who are with acyanotic heart disease. Dr. Najm said babies who fail to thrive usually have a hole between the ventricles and the heart, which then has to work three to four times as hard to eject blood. So when babies with this defect start feeding, they get short of breath, and they cannot feed so they do not gain enough weight.”
Dr. Najm said advances in surgical techniques and technology have made it possible for doctors to have very high success rates with congenital heart surgeries. He said that what was once a devastating diagnosis, should no longer be, as the majority of children who have heart defects corrected will go on to live a normal healthy life.
“Survival is not anymore our measure of success,” said Dr. Najm. “Our measure of success is when I see a child that I’ve operated ten or 15 years ago is actually having normal life, is not short of breath and is able and did not need reoperations. That’s a true success of congenital heart surgery.”
Dr. Najm said it’s important for every expectant mother to have a fetal echocardiogram during pregnancy to check for potential heart defects. If a defect is found, it’s important that parents find a cardiac center that is equipped to give them the right surgery, executed well, in order to give their child the best chance possible of living a normal, healthy life.