Congenital Heart Disease

One in 125 infants is born with congenital heart disease annually in the United States, a malformation caused by genetic or environmental factors. While Americans have fewer babies with birth defects than in other countries, the potential for life-threatening conditions still exists. In the first trimester of pregnancy, fetuses are susceptible to deformities, malformations and congenital diseases which may impact the viability of vital organs and adversely affect an infant's ability to survive. Mothers and fathers may carry developmental or recessive genes which may not be evident until children are born. Cardiovascular health can be adversely impacted by genetic factors, including chromosomal abnormalities which cause defective openings in the upper or lower ventricles, or chambers of the heart. In infants, the smaller size of this vital organ can make corrective surgery difficult; and many times, cardiologists may advise waiting until babies are older and organs more mature before proceeding with delicate cardiovascular procedures. "Then were there brought unto Him little children, that He should put His hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:13-14).

Physicians emphasize optimum prenatal care throughout pregnancy to circumvent birth defects and prevent mothers and infants from contracting diseases or becoming exposed to harmful toxins. Expectant mothers are admonished to refrain from smoking, drinking, taking certain prescription medicines, or abusing drugs which can harm the fetus. However, some situations are difficult to avoid; and women can become predisposed to conditions which adversely impact pregnancies. Adverse environmental factors include a mother's contraction of German measles within the first two months of pregnancy or rarely, births at high altitudes. Downs syndrome babies have also been known to have defective cardiovascular systems caused by genetic conditions. Detected anywhere between birth to the first year, congenital heart disease results in an abnormal increase or decrease of blood flow due to enlarged openings or obstructions between the organ to the pulmonary artery. Symptoms in newborns to one-year-olds may include slight heart murmurs, slow growth rates, chronic and recurring pulmonary infections, and difficulty eating. Once diagnosed, physicians will try to control abnormal blood flow with medications or surgery, depending on the type of disease presented.

Congenital heart disease can exist in several forms: ventrical septal defect (VSD), atrial septal defect (ASD), patent ductus arteriosus, tetralogy of fallot, coarction of the aorta, aortic or pulmonary stenosis, and transposition or reversal of two great arteries. VSD accounts for twenty-five percent of all cases of congenital heart disease in infants; and is caused by an abnormal opening between the lower ventricles. This opening, which normally closes within the first year of birth, increases blood flow to the lungs under high pressure, increasing the baby's risk of cardiac failure. In female infants, arterial septal defect, which presents an abnormal opening between the upper chambers or ventricles, also creates increased blood flow. Patent Ductus Arteriosus, also common in females, is a failure of the ductus arteriosus leading from the pulmonary artery to the aorta to close properly. Both conditions require surgery to correct the malformation, usually at the age of four or five when organs are more fully developed.

While irregular openings abnormally increase blood flow to the lungs, certain types of congenital heart disease obstruct the flow of blood to the upper and lower chambers. Newborns who present with obstructions or narrowing of the arteries are known as "blue babies," indicative of the bluish cast to the skin, termed "cyanosis." In tetralogy of fallot, blood flow to the heart's right ventricle is obstructed and the position of the aorta, the largest vessel, may shift to the right. In aortic stenosis, the valve leading from the heart to the aorta is narrowed, causing murmurs or irregular beats. In severely cyanotic children, two major arteries arising from the organ can become reversed, causing blood flowing away from the heart to be pumped back into the body without passing through the lungs. These obstructive conditions are life-threatening and require immediate intervention to open valves or redirect blood flow.

Coarction, or constriction of the aorta, is a congenital heart disease which increases the baby's blood pressure above the obstruction and must be surgically removed, usually when the child reaches the age of six. Milder cases of infant congenital heart disease may be treated with medication until babies develop sufficiently to endure delicate surgical procedures. Some openings close without surgery; and cardiologists can determine the severity of each condition. Babies who suffer such malformations will require ongoing cardiac care and continual monitoring. Developmental difficulties and digestive disorders can cause other problems, such as retarded growth due to an inability to properly process vital nutrients. Frequent upper respiratory infections also impede infants' growth and may further exacerbate critical cardiac conditions.

Having a baby can be the most exciting time for parents, grandparents, and siblings. However, the hopes of having a healthy child can be dashed by a diagnosis of congenital heart disease. While parents may want to blame one another or even God for allowing their baby to suffer from a quirk of nature, help is available. Today, modern medicine has made tremendous strides in detecting and correcting genetic deficiencies, including heart disease; and infant mortality is on the decline. New advances and technologies should provide parents and doctors with an even greater hope that infants can survive congenital cardiovascular diseases. With proper diagnosis and effective treatment, including surgery and medicines; babies with defects are able to overcome life-threatening conditions to live normal, healthy, and wholesome lives.

Symptoms Of Heart Disease In Women

Heart disease in women usually develops 7 to 8 years later than it does in men and is the leading cause of death in those over 65. Researchers do not yet know why females also do not tend to recover from heart attacks as well as do men. Theories have suggested that females don't pursue medical attention for themselves as early or perhaps their heart muscles are smaller and cannot endure the sudden attacks. Also, symptoms of heart disease in women do not present themselves as obviously as in males which may also account for the lack of personal attention to a developing problem.

Risk factors for the condition are generally the same for both sexes except for hormone replacement therapy. HRT has been recognized as a risk factor in heart disease in women who use synthetic hormones at the onset of menopause. Replacing estrogen during menopause can alleviate hot flashes and other uncomfortable side effects of natural aging. It also can help to protect the deterioration of bone mass through osteoporosis. Up until recently, HRT was also thought to protect against symptoms of heart disease in women. Now, studies show that using hormone replacement therapy can negatively affect a woman's health. "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me to dwell in safety." (Psalm 4:8)

Other factors that put both females and males at risk of heart disease are smoking, high cholesterol, inactivity, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heredity and age. Smoking significantly elevates the chances of developing heart disease in women. Scientific research has shown that half of all women who experience heart attacks before the age of 50 are smokers. Research also states that if a smoker stops, she can lower her risk of disease by one third within 2 years time. That's an incredible positive motivation for women to stop smoking even if they've smoked most of their lives. Also, women who use birth control pills while continuing to smoke increase the risk factors for coronary disease even more.

Second hand smoke can be a factor as well and females who live in households with a smoker are at increased risk. High cholesterol is commonly known to be one of the most important factors in creating or reducing the risk for coronary conditions. While the body naturally makes its own cholesterol as an important source for cells and hormones, people also ingest more hormones through red meat, dairy products and eggs. Reducing cholesterol intake from dietary sources can help to lower LDL cholesterol. There are also medications that can be prescribed by a doctor, which can further reduce bad cholesterol levels.

For those who are particularly at risk, diet and medication may be important to maintain appropriate levels of cholesterol in the body. Obesity is a common factor that not only contributes to the symptoms of heart disease in women, but also affects other conditions such as diabetes and blood pressure. Controlling weight gain is particularly difficult in females when they reach the mid-life mark simply because of the change in body chemistry due to menopause. Those who are overweight already can put their lives at even more risk during this time when their chances of a heart attack suddenly escalate.

No matter how difficult it may be, it is possible to control weight gain and actually benefit from weight loss no matter how old a female is at the time. There are many benefits to weight loss such as less strain on the heart, skeletal frame and other related conditions. Receiving medical or nutritional help is worth the effort in order to live a longer, productive life. Diabetes can be related to obesity in some women and loosing weight can also produce positive affects on this condition. Some women have actually diminished the symptoms of diabetes as well as their risk for heart disease by controlled weight loss.

High blood pressure is a common problem among females that can also be affected by weight loss, although not entirely. Just as in the development of cholesterol, there are some genetic links to those who have high blood pressure. Heredity presents risk factors that cannot be entirely controlled. They can, however, be minimized by a medical treatment plan. Age is a primary factor for heart disease in women with the risk becoming even with men when females reach 65 years of age.

Women can lower their risk for coronary disease by eating a healthy diet, exercising frequently, scheduling consistent, medical checkups and watching for any symptoms. Symptoms of heart disease in women may be subtle, but should not be ignored. Signs to watch for are cold sweats, extreme fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath, pain the neck, chest or jaw and feelings of discomfort or anxiety. Females should be aware that over 60% of all women who die of coronary attacks had no symptoms at all. Paying attention to the small, uncomfortable symptoms is important and heading to a doctor at the first sign of problems is necessary for every woman, especially when she reaches 50 years of age.

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