This post is borrowed from th CHD blog, but I thought it would be a good one to share. This FAQ is taken from a fact sheet provided by the American Heart Association. The full fact sheet, if you are interested, can be found here.
1. What is a congenital heart defect?
Congenital heart defects are structural problems with the heart present at birth. They result when a mishap occurs during heart development soon after conception and often before the mother is aware that she is pregnant. Defects range in severity from simple problems, such as “holes” between chambers of the heart, to very severe malformations, such as complete absence of one or more chambers or valves.
2. Who is at risk to have a child with a congenital heart defect?
Anyone can have a child with a congenital heart defect. Out of 1000 births, 8 babies will have some form of congenital heart disorder, most of which are mild. If you or other family members have already had a baby with a heart defect, your risk of having a baby with heart disease may be higher.
3. How many people in the United States have a congenital heart defect?
Estimates suggest that about 1,000,000 Americans have a congenital heart defect. Approximately 35,000 babies are born with a defect each year.
4. Why do congenital heart defects occur?
Most of the time we do not know. Although the reason defects occur is presumed to be genetic, only a few genes have been discovered that have been linked to the presence of heart defects. Rarely the ingestion of some drugs and the occurrence of some infections during pregnancy can cause defects.
5. How can I tell if my baby or child has a congenital heart defect?
Severe heart disease generally becomes evident during the first few months after birth. Some babies are blue or have very low blood pressure shortly after birth. Other defects cause breathing difficulties, feeding problems, or poor weight gain. Minor defects are most often diagnosed on a routine medical check up. Minor defects rarely cause symptoms. While most heart murmurs in children are normal, some may be due to defects.
6. How serious is the problem?
Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect and are the number one cause of death from birth defects during the first year of life. Nearly twice as many children die from congenital heart disease in the United States each year as die from all forms of childhood cancers combined. Over 91,000 life years are lost each year in the US due to congenital heart disease. Charges for care exceed 2.2 billion dollars, for inpatient surgery alone.
7. Are things improving?
Definitely. Overall mortality has significantly declined over the past few decades. For example, in the 1960s and 1970s the risk of dying following congenital heart surgery was about 30% and today it is around 5%.