Around eight in 1,000 babies are born with something wrong with their heart. This can sometimes be called a cardiac abnormality, congenital heart disease or congenital heart defect.
While most of these babies can survive and grow to adulthood, and may go on to have children themselves, experts say it is one reason why pregnant women must be mindful of their health while the gestation period lasts.
Experts say that if a child has a congenital heart defect, it means that the child was born with a problem in the structure of his or her heart.
“Some congenital heart defects in children are simple and don’t need treatment. Other congenital heart defects in children are more complex and may require several surgeries performed over a period of several years,” experts at Mayo Clinic say.
The experts warn that learning about your child’s congenital heart defect can help you understand the condition and know what you can expect in the coming months and years.
Reacting, Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, Dr. Omolola Lamina-Alaaya, says what parents do before and during pregnancy can have a significant influence on the child’s heart.
Dr. Lamina-Alaaya says a healthy heart starts in childhood and a bad health habit before and during pregnancy can predispose a child to have cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, and heart attacks in their adulthood.
Speaking in an interview with PUNCH HealthWise, the expert said alcohol, drugs like vitamin A, anti-malarial are also known to affect the foundation of the heart.
“Basically, problems in the heart starts even before the child is born. From the first month of pregnancy, usually about three weeks before the mother misses her first period, the heart starts to form and some issues start from that time.
“As much as possible, we encourage mothers to stay away from anything that can affect the formation of the heart.
“So, there is the need to prepare for pregnancy. As soon as the mother notices she is pregnant, she is advised to see her obstetrics & gynaecology doctor for medical check, a detailed history, and monitoring of the mother and the child.
“Alcohol, drugs like vitamin A, and antimalarials are also known to affect the foundation of the heart.
“We encourage pregnant women to stay away from herbal concoctions because they do not know which one will affect the foundation of the heart.
“In other cases, if the mother is diabetic and it’s not well controlled, it can also affect the baby.
“The overall health of the mother has to be sound before and during pregnancy and she has to be watchful of what she puts in her mouth,” Lamina-Alaaya said.
She noted that if a member of the mother’s family has a history of heart disease or the mother has had a history of abortion, it can predispose the unborn child to heart disease.
“The mother needs to maintain a healthy lifestyle. She should eat healthy food and take her routine vitamins as prescribed,” the specialist added.
Stating the categories of heart-related issues, Lamina-Alaaya explained that congenital heart problems start when the heart is forming in the womb, while acquired heart diseases develop from other factors after birth, ranging from infections, the diet, and the weight of the child.
She noted that heart diseases may not manifest until a child’s first or second decade.
“There are congenital heart diseases often referred to as ‘hole in the heart,’ and the troubles you find with the heart start from inside the womb when the heart is forming.
“However, there is another part which we call the ‘acquired heart disease.’ This happens after the child might have been born and it can start from as early as possible once a child is born.
“For the congenital heart diseases, those have to do with the structure of the heart, the way the heart is formed and you have various holes in the heart, which will not manifest until the child is born.
“Some manifest immediately the child is born, some may take about a month or six weeks after the child is born before you see the manifestations.
“The acquired heart diseases can stem from nutrition to how the child is fed or if the child is obese, which we are beginning to see these days because a lot of people have this idea that the more they feed their child, or the chubbier the child looks, the society accepts that the child is healthy; but these are issues that also affect the heart and they begin to mount on.
“The clinical manifestation will be when the child begins to develop serious symptoms in the first or second decade,” she added.
Lamina-Alaaya said congenital heart diseases can be hereditary as well.
“We have a group of diseases we call cardiomyopathy — they are hereditary but they don’t show symptoms until much later in life.
“If a member of the family has particular heart disease, the mother needs to tell the doctor so that the child can be screened.
“It may not manifest as early as possible, but if we catch it early, we can begin to watch out and treat and make sure that the disease does not progress as fast as it would without intervention.
“Before the mother gets pregnant, if she knows that there is a family history of heart disease or she has had a child that died or had a previous history of abortion [miscarriage], she needs to inform her doctors so that the physician knows what to do,” she said.
The Paediatric Cardiologist said once the child is born, he is examined by a doctor to know his health status.
“If the child is found fit and sound and nothing suggesting of heart defect, the child can go on regular breastfeeding, no need for medication, just regular feeding, not overfeeding or underfeeding and the regular immunisation.
“If the child is born and while examining, the doctor finds anything abnormal in the heart, the child will be referred to paediatric cardiologist to conduct the regular examination and investigation.
“If there are heart defects, treatment will commence so that it doesn’t progress to severe ones. If there are severe ones needing treatment, then the child would be taken for the appropriate treatment.
“Parents need to know that there are heart diseases that can start as early as when the mother is pregnant.
“There is also a need to examine the child once he is born. If the child is certified healthy by a paediatrician, ensure he/she is properly fed, ensure he is not overweight or underweight because either conditions can contribute to the development of acquired heart diseases,” Lamina-Alaaya said.
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