Congenital heart defects
Christopher Derby, MD, is a pediatric cardiovascular surgeon at Cardon Children’s Medical Center.
Question: We are expecting our first child, and we were told that our baby might have a heart defect. What are the causes of heart defects, and what are the available treatments after my baby is born?
Answer: Congenital heart defects happen because of incomplete or abnormal development of the baby’s heart during the very early weeks of pregnancy. Some are known to be associated with genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, but the cause of most congenital heart defects is unknown.
Approximately eight out of every 1,000 newborns have congenital heart defects, which can range from mild to severe. While they can't be prevented, there are many treatments for the defects and any related health problems.
If a congenital heart defect is suspected, your obstetrician will likely refer you to a pediatric cardiologist for fetal testing to determine what defect your child may have. Some congenital heart defects require newborn intensive care in the hospital and immediate evaluation by a pediatric cardiovascular surgeon. Smaller defects may be managed by a cardiologist as your child grows.
There are a variety of treatment options for congenital heart defects, and most defects are treated successfully. These babies with known cardiac abnormalities are best cared for by a team of specialists, which will usually include pediatric cardiologists, pediatric heart surgeons, pediatric cardiac anesthesiologists, doctors who specialize in the intensive care of children, cardiac nurses and many others. Many children will benefit from having their hearts repaired surgically or through a procedure in the cardiac catheterization laboratory.
With all the medical resources available, a congenital heart defect won't necessarily prevent a child from leading a normal life. With today’s research and technology, we are become very effective in diagnosing and treating a baby’s broken heart.