February is American Heart Month. The well-publicized observancy does a ton to raise money and awareness for preventable heart disease. And with cardiovascular disease ranking as the number one killer of men and women in the US, the attention is fitting. However, there's a subset of heart disease that isn't preventable. This subset affects the most vulnerable population”babies.

Congenital Heart Defects: The Most Common Type Of Birth Defect

Congenital heart defect is when a child is born with a structural issue with his heart. They don't develop as the result of lifestyle choices like other types of heart disease, like cardiovascular disease.

40,000 babies are born each year with a congenital heart defect in the United States
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Doctors may diagnose a heart defect during pregnancy or after the child is born. No matter when the diagnosis happens, the news challenges any family.

While congential heart defects are sometimes referred to as congenital heart disease, “defect”  better reflects the issue. The heart hasn't developed fully in the womb, and so the child is born with a defect.

Differences Between Congenital Heart Defect and Cardiovascular Disease

FactsCongenital Heart DefectCardiovascular Disease
Preventable No Yes
Typical Age at Diagnosis 20 weeks gestation or during infance 45+ for men, 55+ for women
Treatmeant Options
  • some don't need treatment
  • surgery to repair the defect
  • heart transplant
  • drugs
  • catheter procedures
  • drugs
  • surgery
  • weight loss
  • more exercise
  • healthier diet
  • quit smoking
How many people have condition? 2 million Americans 85.6 milling Americans
Most Common Type Cause

ventricular septial defect:

A hole in the wall separating the two lower chambers of the heart. Can cause higher pressure in heart and less oxygen in the body.

  • unknown
  • genetics

coronary artery disease:

Plaque clogs the heart's larger arteries and less oxygen gets to the heart.

  • smoking
  • poor diet
  • lack of exercise
  • diabetes
  • overweight
  • obese

Source: National Institutes of Health; Center for Disease Control and Prevention 1, 2; American Heart Association 1, 2

3 Things To Know If Your Child Is Diagnosed with A Congenital Heart Defect

1. There is hope.

Medical treatment and advancements have helped people with heart defects living longer, healthier lives.

For the first time in history, there are more adults living with congenital heart defects than children, according to the Children's Heart Foundation.

Some people are able to live independently. Others might develop disabilities or complications later in life. There's no way to know ahead of time. So take it one day at a time.

2. The importance of self-care.

If your child is diagnosed with a critical heart defect, he may require a lot of extra care. This could mean:

  • Being in and out of the hospital
  • Eating special diets at home
  • Preparing for surgeries or heart transplant

As a parent and primary care taker, you'll need to be in the best condition possible to take care of your child.

Don't forget to take care of yourself, too. Your to-do list should include:

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Staying active
  • Connecting to your friends and family
  • Finding the emotional support you need

Thinking of yourself may seem selfish at first, but if you're not well, taking care of your child will be even more challenging.

3. You're not alone.

2,000,000 Number of people estimated to be living with heart defects in the United States
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Although heart defects don't get as much attention as preventable cardiovascular diseases, there are a lot of resources and support groups for parents who have kids with heart conditions.

Facebook groups and other online communities provide great ways to connect with others who are going through similar situations. This could be a good source of practical information and emotional support.

If your child has been diagnosed with a heart defect, schedule an appointment today with an EIRMC physician.