Evan Ty Jenkins

Congenital heart disease (CHD) consists of a physical abnormality in some aspect of the structure of the heart, ranging from mild to severe in nature, which exists at birth. In fetal heart development, the first four weeks after conception are critical, with many of the most crucial changes occurring even before the mother realizes she is pregnant.

The heart, which resembles a tube, begins to beat on the third week after conception. By the fourth week, it has folded over and developed into a simple heart-shaped structure with the major blood vessels in place. Given the rapid development in such a short time frame, it becomes easier to appreciate how quickly something can go wrong. Babies with the most severe forms of CHD are diagnosed very shortly after birth. Babies born with less serious defects also display symptoms, including cyanosis, low blood pressure, and/or swelling of extremities or abdomen. However, many conditions, even serious ones, may take weeks or months before they present symptoms.

The treatment of CHD started at about the same time the technology was developed to diagnose it, with significant advancements in medical technology in the last 40 years. Statistics show that, during the 60s and 70s, the mortality rate of babies with CHDs was 30%, compared to the current rate of 5%. However, the American Heart Association still reports that congenital heart disease is “the number one cause of death from birth defects during the first year of life.”

Thanks to advancements in technology, many defects can now be corrected by less invasive cardiac catheterization procedures, which reduce surgical risk and improve post-operative recovery. However, even after a non-eventful surgery, there are still risks that may have impacts on the lifespan of the patient. The normal aging process can adversely affect the repair, so it is important for the patient to visit a cardiologist on a regular basis to monitor his or her physical condition.

Due to the potential of contracting infective endocarditis, may CHD patients will require antibiotic treatment when they have dental work done. Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapies could have adverse effects on the female CHD patient. Depending on the nature of the surgery and the extent of the CHD, some patients are more likely to suffer complications including stroke.