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Eight Days spanning from February 7th through February 14th is National Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week. How appropriate that the last day of the week ends on Valentine’s Day, a holiday that is synonymous with hearts.

If you are not one of the 1.8 million American families affected by this disease, you’re probably asking what is a Congenital Heart Defect?

Congenital heart defects are conditions present at birth that affect how a baby's heart is made and the way it works. The defects can be present on the interior walls of the heart, the valves inside the heart, or the arteries and veins that carry blood between the heart and the body. Congenital Heart Disease is considered to be the most common birth defect, and is a leading cause of birth-defect related deaths worldwide.

Some heart defects can be recognized during prenatal care, such as through an ultra sound. Other defects can be recognized at birth through a bluish tint on the nails or the lips, and if the newborn has trouble breathing. Other heart defects cannot be determined until after birth and may not go undetected through childhood or adulthood. Often individuals who make it to adulthood without the birth defect being detected are a part of the lucky group who have simple conditions that require little to no treatment, and can easily be fixed. Others are born with more complex congenital heart defects. Complex heart defects that are noticed before, during, or shortly after delivery, may require medical care soon after birth.

Heart defects can be detected after birth through a pulse oximetry screening, which is a test to determine the amount of oxygen in the blood and pulse rate. Some hospitals will perform this screening on all babies as part of a routine, but this is not a mandatory procedure, and is not done in all hospitals. Often a screening will be suggested if the doctor or nurse has reason to believe the baby may have a heart defect.

The cause of most congenital heart defects is unknown. Some defects may be an unfortunate, unpreventable, natural occurrence of changes in their chromosomes. There are some risk factors, recently identified by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Birth Defects Prevention Study. Expectant mothers who are obese, diabetic, and smoke cigarettes during pregnancy increase their chances of having a baby born with a heart defect.

While most of the risk factors for congenital heart defects can be attributed to an unhealthy mother, often heart defects, and other birth defects can be the result of a mother trying to keep herself health and follow her doctor’s orders. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or anti-depressants, such as Paxil have been determined by the FDA to cause congenital malformations if ingested in the first trimester of pregnancy. Celexa and Zoloft have also been associated with heart related birth defects.

In honor of National Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week, Women who are pregnant or hoping to become pregnant, should talk to their doctors about their own health & pregnancy risk factors, as well as talk about current medications they are taking and how they could affect their pregnancy, or a potential pregnancy. Following delivery, be sure to ask your doctor about any heart defects screenings that may be performed, and whether or not a screening would be a good idea if it is not already part of their routine treatment.

To learn more about National Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week please visit:

One Comment

  1. Gravatar for Karen Swim

    Jackie, so often on Valentine's Day we think of flowers, candy and romantic gestures but what a perfect day and month to think about heart health. This information is so helpful to women who want to do all they can to not only ensure their health but the health of their baby. Thanks for the great information!

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