Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) is a condition in which a child is born with a fault in the heart’s structure. The defect is usually caused when disruption is detected in the development of the foetus’ heart, which may lead to obstruction of blood flow in the arteries. There are chances of abnormalities occurring during the first 6 weeks of pregnancy when the foetus’ heart develops from a tube-like structure to the shape of a fully-formed heart. Paediatric cardiologists at AMRI Hospitals explain that it is hard to state the apparent cause behind congenital heart diseases in most cases.
While not many factors have been identified behind congenital heart diseases, in most cases, the condition is generally considered to be an ill-effect of multifactorial inheritance, meaning several factors are present behind birth defects. For congenital heart defects, genes and environment are considered to be the two major factors leading to the condition. Usually, children born with mild heart defects can live a healthy life with the help of treatment. However, more than 50% of children are observed with severe conditions that could require surgical intervention or life-long treatment.
Major Causes of Congenital heart defects
Several factors can increase a child’s risk of suffering congenital heart defects, yet most cases have no known cause. While prolonged maternal illnesses or medications can be one of the reasons affecting the development of a foetus’ heart, there are few known causes. Some of these are:
1. Genetic Conditions
Around 20% of CHD cases are believed to be due to genetic causes; a child born in a family where heart ailments and defects run in the family tree have a higher risk of developing similar condition. The child may get affected by genetic syndrome or Down Syndrome, which is believed to be caused by the extra 21st chromosome, often leading to heart defects. Also, in case of the missing chromosome 22 (genetic material) causes the same condition. Experts suggest it is necessary to go for genetic testing during the stage of foetal development.
2. Medication and Drugs
If a mother unknowingly consumes illicit drugs or over-the-counter medications during pregnancy, without consulting a physician, may increase the risk of congenital heart disorders in their babies. It is prudent to take note that certain medicines, including Thalidomide, Statins, Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, or acne medication isotretinoin, and lithium have agents to expose the pregnant mother to the risk of congenital heart defects in a child.
3. Heavy Consumption of Alcohol
It has always been advised to quit consumption of alcohol during pregnancy, as it may affect the foetus’ growth, and even cause irreparable damage. Alcohol and smoking during pregnancy increase the likelihood of congenital heart diseases in the baby.
4. Maternal Diabetes
During pregnancy, a mother has to take several precautions, especially if she has already been diagnosed with chronic diseases such as diabetes. It is necessary to control blood sugar levels before attempting to conceive, and even during pregnancy, to lower the risk of congenital heart defects in the baby. Gestational diabetes doesn’t increase the risk of causing heart defects in the baby but they are at the risk of developing type-2 diabetes later in life.
Getting infected with rubella during pregnancy can also be risky for the development of the baby’s heart. In such conditions, it is advisable to wait at least a month after getting vaccinated before you conceive to reduce risk of CHD in the baby.