- Do children really have heart problems???
ANS: Congenital Heart Diseases (CHD) or defects that are present right from the time heart takes shape in the mother’s womb, are the next biggest killer in infants after infection in India. It is not just holed: children can have a large combination of various congenital heart problems like narrowed or leaky valves. In more severe forms, blood vessels or heart chambers may be missing, poorly formed, and/or in the wrong place.
Taking standard prevalence rates into consideration, it is estimated that around 1,30,000 to 2,70,000 children are added to the congenital disease pool every year in India itself.
- How do they happen? Are they hereditary?
ANS: Most causes of CHD are unknown. Only 15-20% of CHDs are related to known genetic conditions. Most CHDs are thought to be caused by a combination of genes and risk factors such as environmental exposures and maternal conditions. Maternal obesity, smoking, alcoholism, exposure to radiation including electromagnetic radiation from the computer and certain viral infections in mothers together with some conditions like diabetes or phenylketonuria in mothers increase the risk of having a child with CHD.
CHDs are not hereditary in real sense. A baby’s risk of having a CHD is increased by 3 times if the mother, father, or sibling has a CHD.
- How early can they be detected? Do we have such techniques easily available?
ANS: Heart defects can be easily diagnosed as early as 12 weeks of pregnancy by fetal echocardiography. After birth too, a complete evaluation by echocardiography alone can easily defect the presence of heart defects in newly born babies. Gradually these tests are becoming easily available at least in all major cities across India. However, the need for availability ratio is still higher in India.
- What are the treatment options? Should one wait for the child to get older to get treated?
ANS: About 25% of babies born with heart disease will require open-heart surgery or other forms of interventions to survive with advancing technology, many heart defects can now be cured without going for open heart operations with the help of devices, balloons, and stents.
Every heart defect has its timing for treatment which if not done at the correct time can result in death or inoperability for that disease. Interventions and surgeries in all major centers are now performed even on newborn babies when required with good results. In short, always follow your doctor’s guidance and get the defect treated before it becomes too late!!
- What is the future of a child after getting treated for CHD?
ANS: Most of the babies whose CHDs are fully treated by open heart surgery or percutaneous interventions lead a life as normal as that of an individual without CHD. Only a small percentage of CHDs are such that would require multiple stage operations or interventions and such individuals are also at risk of health problems as difficulty with exercise, heart rhythm problems, heart failure, stroke, etc.
- What can we as a society do for children with CHD’s?
ANS: Treatment of CHD is a financial and emotional burden for the parents. Adequate education of the parents is required. Several state-run treatment plans are now being slowly made available for financial support to such families. Support groups that would educate the family, make them familiar with various financial resources through donor organizations, blood donor organizations are required. Several of these CHD children also face developmental delays and it is necessary for them to avail early intervention programs alongside as well. Support from employers of parents and schools of children for loss of workdays for frequent follow-ups is also required.