Congenital Heart Defects

More than one in 125 newborns has a congenital heart defect; it’s the most common kind of birth defect in the United States. These defects are classified according to what exactly is wrong and where. The different defects include:

  • Complete atrioventricular canal defect, a failure of the walls separating the chambers to meet in the middle where they’re supposed to, allowing the blood that’s supposed to go to the lungs to mix with that destined for the body.
  • Truncus arteriosus, in which the blood vessels leading in from the lungs and out to the body are fused together rather than separate. This, too, interferes with proper routing of the blood through the body.
  • Ebstein’s anomaly, in which the heart valve on the left side doesn’t fully close.
  • Tetralogy of Fallot, a combination of a hole between the heart’s lower chambers with the aorta right next to it, a blockage in the link between the heart and the lungs, and a thickening of the wall of the right chamber.
  • Pulmonary valve stenosis, in which the heart valve doesn’t open all the way and blood sometimes flows back out.
  • Atrial septal defect, a hole in the wall separating the top two chambers of the heart.
  • Coarctation of the aorta, a narrowing of the artery that carries blood out of the heart, which can lead to high blood pressure.

Treatment generally involves surgery to fix the damage, though it depends on what the defect is and what other health conditions the person may have. Congenital heart defects are often diagnosed in infants or very young children, which can affect the kinds of surgery that are considered safe. Moreover, not all heart defects require treatment, though it is considered that most do. However, advances in medicine mean that most children with heart problems live about as long as healthier children do.

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