When it comes to health and well-being, heart health is at the top of the list of things parents prioritize when caring for their child. So when there is concern that something is wrong, it’s important for parents to remain calm and do their research on what they need to know about heart complications in children. While there are several different types of problems related to the heart, we are going to focus on congenital heart defect — specifically in children. The reason is that, of the heart problems that are considered serious, congenital heart defect is the most common and should be the first one that parents be on the lookout for.
What is a congenital heart defect?
A congenital heart defect is a problem that is found within the structure of the heart.
The illustration above shows the structure of a child’s healthy heart. When working properly, blood will flow into the right side of the heart, flow to the lungs to receive oxygen, then return to the heart and flow to the left side of the heart, and finally is pumped out to the body. This is how a heart is supposed to work; healthy valves keep the blood flowing smoothly.
Congenital heart defect impacts the blood flow to one or more of the valves seen above: the opening may be too narrow, the wall separating the chambers may be too thin (or have a small hole), the valve doesn’t close properly, and so on. The severity of the defect is based upon how seriously the blood flow is impacted within the heart.
Early indicators of a heart defect
Unfortunately, congenital heart defects are something children have when they are born. Since heart development begins in utero, sometimes health care providers can detect problems in pregnancy during a mother’s ultrasound. Early detection is critical to treating and managing congenital heart defects.
However, not all cases are found as early as pregnancy, meaning it is up to parents and healthcare providers to be on the lookout. Early indicators include (Story 2017):
- Blueish lips, fingers, or toes
- Breathlessness or trouble breathing
- Low birthweight
- Delayed growth
- Abnormal heart rhythms
Some of these early signs are easy to detect since they can be observed more easily; the appearance of blueish lips or noticing that your child is having difficulty breathing.
Symptoms such as blueish lips or noticing your child’s breathing are easier to detect because those symptoms are more easily observed. However, other symptoms, like abnormal heart rhythms, are not as easily seen.
One way to detect an abnormal heart rhythm is with the use of a baby monitor. The LoveyQ is a wearable monitor that can closely monitor your baby’s heart patterns while awake or sleeping. The benefit of a monitor like this is that it will track long-term heart patterns that will help parents better understand how their child’s heart is working. The app will display the data for parents to see so they can better evaluate the health of their child’s heart.
During a standard well-child appointment, pediatricians spend up to an hour with each child; 1 minute of that appointment is spent listening to the child’s heart with a stethoscope. While congenital heart defects can be detected this way, and regular checkups with a pediatrician are important, it may not be enough to catch everything. That’s why we advocate for regular monitoring with LoveyQ. If parents notice any abnormalities in heart rhythms, they can bring that data to their next appointment and show the doctor.
While LoveyQ cannot diagnose children with congenital heart defects, it can detect early warning signs. Once notified, a doctor will need to perform further testing before a diagnosis can be determined.
What causes congenital heart defects?
As mentioned earlier, congenital heart defects are something that a person is born with, meaning that problems begin early in development. Experts are not precisely sure what causes these heart defects, but they suspect that the problem may start during pregnancy. They have found a correlation to mothers who exhibit certain behaviors during pregnancy tend to have children born with congenital heart defects (Story 2017):
- Mothers who take certain prescription drugs during pregnancy
- Mothers who consume alcohol or take illegal drugs
- Mothers who had a viral infection during the first trimester of pregnancy
- Mothers who had an increase in their blood sugar levels from something such as diabetes.
It is clear that the health and behaviors of a mother during pregnancy can impact the health of their unborn child for life. However, having a child with a congenital heart defect does not mean the mother was negligent during her pregnancy. Research also suggests that congenital heart defects may be genetic and can, therefore, simply run in the family. Be sure to examine your own family’s health history when assessing the likelihood that your child may have a congenital heart defect.
If you are concerned that your child may have a congenital heart defect, it’s important to contact your doctor immediately so that further destiny can be done. While careful monitoring can’t prevent your child from developing a congenital heart defect, it can certainly help with early detection that can help get your child the care that they need to manage their condition. We care about our kids as much as you do for yours; if you suspect that there is a problem, we hope that you can get the care that they need.
What are Congenital Heart Defects? | CDC. (2019, November 22). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. (2020). Congenital Heart Defects in Children | Doernbecher Children’s Hospital | OHSU. OHSU.
Story, C. M. (2017, December 19). Congenital Heart Disease. Healthline.