A hole in the septum between the heart’s two upper chambers is called an Atrial Septal Defect(ASD).Holes in the heart are simple congenital heart defects that create problems with the heart’s structure and blood flow patterns, right from birth. The heart has two sides, separated by an inner wall called the septum. With each heartbeat, the right side of the heart receives oxygen-poor blood from the body and pumps it to the lungs. The left side of the heart receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and pumps in into the body. The septum prevents mixing of blood between the two sides of the heart. However, in India, studies have proved that one out of four infants is born with an ASD condition.
ASD signs and symptoms in babies include:
- Shortness/gasping of breath,
- Swelling of legs, feet or abdomen
- Heart palpitations or skipped beats
- Frequent lung infections
- Heart murmurs (Most common)
Although doctors know that this type of a heart defect is present at birth, there is no definite cause. What is known is that, congenital heart defects appear to run in families and sometimes occur with other genetic problems, such as Down syndrome.
Dr. Devi Shetty, Chairman, Narayana Health believes that in several cases, infant ASDs are directly associated with the child’s mother, her health, age, family history of heart diseases and lifestyle patterns. Here are some of the possible factors that may increase the risk of having a baby with a heart defect. They include the following:
· Rubella infection- German measles during the first few months of pregnancy can increase the risk of fetal heart defects.
· Drugs, tobacco, smoking and alcohol- Use of certain medications, tobacco, alcohol or drugs, such as cocaine, during pregnancy can harm the developing fetus.
· Obesity- Being extremely overweight may also play a role in increasing the risk of having a baby with a birth defect.
· Phenylketonuria (PKU).PKU patients not following the PKU meal plan, may be more likely to have babies with heart defects.
A small ASD may never cause any problems and often close during infancy. But the larger defects can cause mild to life-threatening problems including Right-sided heart failure, Heart rhythm abnormalities (arrhythmias) and an increased risk of a stroke in the baby’s later stages of life.
Dr. Shetty mentions that ASDs are best treated when the child turns 3-4 years old. Until then he/she is advised regular medical checkups and heart reviews from a specialized pediatric cardiologist. In most cases, ASDs aren’t harmful for babies and if treatment is necessary, it can be treated through non-surgical ways.