What is Congenital Heart Defect (CHD)

This is an abnormality in the function or structure of the heart. This includes things that affect the walls of the blood vessels, organ, that carries the blood to and from it, and the valves which regulate blood flow. Some CHDs are minor and cause no noticeable symptoms. Others so severe that they can place the patient’s life at risk.

Symptoms vary according to the type of defect suffered, as well as its severity. In this article, we’ll explore a few of the most common simple CHDs, including septal defects and valve problems.

Atrial Septal Defect

Artial Septal Defect

Visual Representation of ASD

Inside the heart, the left ventricle and atrium are separated from the ventricle and right atrium by a wall. This wall is known as the septum. It blocks the deoxygenated blood which on the right side from mixing with the newly-oxygenated blood on the left side. Many kids are born with a hole in this wall. If the hole is in between the atria and is known as atrial septal defect (ASD).

When an ASD is small, symptoms may be barely noticeable. Even though blood between the right and left sides is allowed to mix, the amount that does so is negligible, and thus does not pose a significant problem. When the defect is bigger, symptoms are more pronounced. A larger volume of oxygenated blood in the left atrium flows back in the right atrium rather than being pumped out of the heart to the rest of the body. Treatment is often necessary.

Ventricular Septal Defect

A ventricular septal defect (VSD) is the same to an ASD. The only difference is that the hole is in between the two ventricles. The effect is normally the same. Oxygen-rich blood that would otherwise be pumped into the aorta can flow back to right ventricle.

A small VSD is unlikely to have severe consequences. A larger hole, however, can cause fatigue, difficulty taking deep breaths, and in extreme cases, cyanosis due to a marked lack of oxygen in the blood cells. Occasionally, a large ventricular septal defect can cause pulmonary hypertension, a condition where high blood pressure causes the heart to work harder. Unless the septal hole is corrected, the patient may eventually experience heart failure.

Valve Abnormalities

The heart is equipped with valves that manage blood flow between the chambers and the arteries attached to them. The right ventricle and atrium are separated by the tricuspid valve; the left atrium and ventricle are separated by the mitral valve; blood flows from the right ventricle to the pulmonary arteries through the pulmonary valve, and blood moves from the left ventricle to the aorta through the aortic valve.

These valves can be diseased in a few ways. First, they might fail to close completely, allowing blood to flow backward. Second, they may be stiff, and thus fail to open properly. When this happens, the chambers are unable to empty. Third, a valve might be unable to open at all.

Signs of a valve defect vary based on which valve is affected. For example, a regurgitant – or, “leaking” – mitral valve will prevent oxygen-rich blood from being circulated to the body. This leads to fatigue and related issues. A stenotic – or, stiff – pulmonary valve can increase blood pressure in the right ventricle, leading to possible heart failure.

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