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Heart defects common in children

Staff Reporter / 12 January 2013

Heart defects are the most common inborn malformation (congenital defect). Nearly one out of each 100 babies born has something wrong with their hearts.

Khaleej TimesSome heart defects occur because of genetic abnormalities. For example, 50 per cent of children with Down Syndrome are born with heart defects. However, most heart defects occur by random chance — they just happen.

The majority of defects are relatively minor, and either need no treatment or are simple to fix.

Other defects require open heart surgery. Others still require multiple surgeries and the patient is still not left with a normal heart.

The most serious defects are diagnosed shortly after birth, with babies either being ‘blue’ from not getting enough blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen, going into shock from not enough blood going around the body, or by breathing fast and gaining weight poorly because of too much blood going to the lungs. Some heart defects are diagnosed because a murmur is noticed by a doctor. A murmur is just a sound that the heart makes.

Heart defects can usually be treated with medicine, procedures or surgery. Common symptoms include a blue colour of the skin and lips, shortness of breath and difficulty feeding. However, many children have no symptoms and parents do not even know their child has a heart defect. Most tests for heart problems are simple, quick and not painful. Many children with heart defects can live a normal and full life.

What is a heart defect?

Sometimes there is a defect (problem) in the walls of the heart (ie ‘hole in the heart’) or to the valves (ie they may be too narrow or completely blocked), which means either the blue and red blood gets mixed up or the heart may not pump so well. When these problems occur, the body may not get as much oxygen as normal.

Signs and symptoms of heart defects

Many children appear healthy and their parents do not know they have a heart problem. If children do have symptoms, they often develop in the first few weeks after they are born. Common symptoms include: ‘Blue baby’ — blue skin and blue around the lips, difficulty feeding, Shortness of breath.

Testing for heart defects

There are several tests performed for heart problems, which are usually simple, quick and are not painful: common tests are chest X-ray: ECG: Ultrasound scan

Treatment for heart defects


For some heart problems children can take medicine which can be stopped once the problem has improved. Sometimes medicines need to be taken for many years or even for all their life.


Heart surgery can provide a life-long cure for some heart conditions. A heart surgeon will discuss the risks and benefits in detail with you. In very rare cases where surgery, procedures, or medicine does not help, a child may need a heart transplant.

Other Procedures

Some procedures involve putting a thin tube, called a catheter, through the veins to the heart to treat the heart defect. Your child is given a general anaesthetic for this.

Fortunately, medical technology has advanced to the point that most children born with heart defects can be fixed with minimal risk and go on to live normal, happy, productive lives. If there is a concern that your child has a heart defect, meet a paediatric cardiologist.


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