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February 14, 2010

This Valentine, don't forget the little hearts

Congenital heart disease (CHD) is a leading cause of birth defect-related deaths worldwide. Estimates show that out of 3,500 babies born every year in Mumbai, approximately 50% suffer from CHD & need surgery within a year of birth.

Paediatric cardiac surgeons say lack of awareness about the disease and late detection is one of the main reasons for many CHD-related deaths among children. In fact, few 're aware that Feb 14, which is celebrated as Valentines Day, is also observed as congenital heart disease Awareness Day.

CHD is a defect in the heart structure and blood vessels that develops before the birth of the child. A newborn in whom CHD goes undetected, can die within a year of birth.

“About 80% of babies with CHD do not survive without an operation. Those who do, develop severe heart problems later,” says Dr. Suresh Joshi, paediatric cardiac surgeon, Fortis Hospital.

These birth defects of the heart, he says, are common but go undetected, mostly due to a lack of awareness in hospitals. Joshi recently operated on a 63-year-old man with a hole in his heart, a birth defect which remained undiagnosed all these years.

“Cases where the person lives for so many years, are rare. Usually, the complications go on increasing with age,” he says. Citing the example of a nine-year-old boy with a congenital condition known as ventricular septal defect (VSD), Dr. Abdul Rasheed, paediatric cardiologist with the Asian Heart Institute says: “This condition in the boy was diagnosed only last year, when it was too late. Due to pressure on the lungs & arteries, we could not carry out a surgery on the boy. We are not sure how many days he will be able to live with this condition.”

A foetal echocardiography can help diagnose such defects before the birth of a child. “If parents find symptoms like respiratory distress, sweating & poor weight gain in their newborn, they should immediately see a paediatric heart surgeon,” says Dr Snehal Kulkarni, paediatric cardiologist with the Children Heart Centre, Kokilaben Hospital.

Another symptom is a bluish discolouration of the baby’s skin due to less blood flow into the lungs, which may result in oxygen saturation. “It’s a myth that infants with heart ailments do not survive. One has to just react on time,” adds Kulkarni.

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