Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital Heart Defects
Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birthdefect, with 1 in every 125 babies—that’s over 35,000!—in the United States bornwith a congenital heart defect each year. But what are congenital heart defects, exactly?
A congenital heart defect is a structural abnormality of theheart that is present at birth.  Thesedefects, which alter or block the flow of blood through the heart, can range inseverity from mild to life-threatening.  Thereare many different types of congenital heart defects, and they can include structuralproblems of the heart valves, the walls of the heart, or the veins and arteriesthat carry blood to and from the heart.
Congenital heart defects manifest themselves in the earlyweeks of pregnancy—when the fetus’s heart is developing—and occur when theheart develops abnormally or incompletely.   Doctors and scientists are not entirely sure what causes congenitalheart defects but believe that both genetic and environmental factors play apart.  Chronic illnesses, certainmedications, and behaviors such as smoking or drinking during early pregnancyare all believed to increase the risk of congenital heart defects; however,what actually causes the heart to develop abnormally is unknown.
For children born with congenital heart defects, treatment willvary depending on the complexity and severity of the defect.  Treatment options may include medicine,surgery, catheter procedures and sometimes even a heart transplant.  Certain defects require corrective surgeryonly once, in the first few days of life; others may necessitate repeatsurgical procedures or regularly taking medication over the course of severalyears.  In some cases, defects are sominor that they require no treatment at all.
Due to medical advances over the past few decades, theprognosis for children living with congenital heart defects is quite good.  With proper medical care, a majority of thesechildren will make it to adulthood and go on to live relatively normal andproductive lives.  In fact, there arecurrently over 1 million adults in the United States currently living with acongenital heart defect.  This numbergrows larger every year due to improved medical care and technology.
Although the prognosis is very good for those born with acongenital heart defect, we can still do better.  Congenital heart defects are the leadingcause of deaths related to birth defects, and 2,500 children worldwide die fromcongenital heart defects every day.  Onlythrough raising awareness and supporting new research initiatives can we ensurethat every child born with a congenital heart defect has hope.
Dr. Steven Shayani is a cardiologist located in New York. He serves as the Medical Director at Long Island Heart Associates, aswell as Chairman and President of the New York Heart Research Foundation.   He is also Directorof the groundbreaking Mount Sinai at LI Heart Adult Congenital Heart DiseaseProgram, making his practice the only private practice in New York to providethis service to patients.

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