Dr. S Indu Nair, Senior consultant – Neonatology & Paediatrics, Kinder Women’s Hospital and Fertility Clinic, Bengaluru
It isn’t an easy situation to deal with when your child is diagnosed with heart abnormalities. It is stressful when you think of it and may feel angry, depressed, or guilty. However, understanding the severity of the heart conditions and ways that can keep your child safe and comfortable can make life easier for both of you.
Heart Defects in a Child
Some children are born with heart defects, that is, with problems in their heart’s structure. These heart defects are referred to as “congenital heart problems” or problems that are present at birth. These heart defects can be mild or severe.
Congenital heart defects can be different types –
Hole in the heart problem – the most common type of heart defect involving an abnormal connection
between the heart’s chambers
- Abnormalities found in the heart valves
- Obstruction to the blood flow while entering or leaving the heart
- Abnormal connections of the blood vessels to the heart
- Parts of the heart that are too small to work properly
Such heart defects are treated either surgically or medically and require regular visits to the pediatric cardiologist. The cardiologist may use several types of diagnostic tools including ECGs, X-Rays or Echocardiograms to diagnose and assess the progress and effects of the treatment.
Things to ask your doctor
Once your child is diagnosed with any heart defect, make sure to clarify all your doubts to have a clear understanding of the situation and to avoid any mistakes while taking care of the child. Few things that you must ask:
- How severe is your child’s heart conditions?
- What are the few things that are completely restricted for the child?
- Are there specific precautions that you have to take when caring for the child ?
- Will the child face any trouble while feeding? Will the problems persist as the child will grow?
- What if the child is not gaining weight normally?
- If the child undergoes surgical treatment, what are the complications associated with surgery and long
term prognosis ?
Post-treatment, the questions remains on how to take utmost care of the child so that its condition does not deteriorate, or no other complications may arise? The child needs special attention and care, and so do you. Here are some tips to help you care for your child better:
1. Ways to prevent bacterial infection: One of the foremost things to keep in mind include preventing infective endocarditis (bacterial infection in the tissue lining the heart and the blood vessels). Although rare, there are chances of developing it and appropriate actions must be taken to prevent it. Maintaining good dental hygiene by reducing any risk of tooth or gum infections can help. Make sure to brush and floss daily.
2. Feeding your baby: It may be difficult to breastfeed an infant or toddler with heart defects since they can get tired easily. Speak to your doctor or a lactation specialist to find ways to breastfeed. If the baby is on formula feed, follow the nutritionist’s recommendations on calorie count and nutritional benefits to choose the right formula. Giving smaller feeds – breastfeed and formula. Frequent feedingand burping the baby can also help. Look for cues that show the baby is hungry instead of waiting for it to cry. Crying can make the baby tired and may delay feeding process.
3. Building strong immune system: Any child with heart defects have weak immune systems and find it difficult to fight infections easily. Ensure that the baby gets its scheduled flu shots and pneumonia vaccines on time. Avoid crowded places and maintain good hand hygiene.
4. Staying physically active: Similar to all other children, a child with heart defect can also stay physically active without any specific restrictions or rules to follow. In fact, they must be encouraged to take up sports activities such as swimming, tennis, cycling, etc. after consultations with their pediatric cardiologists. For certain congenital heart problems, highly strenuous activities may be advised to be avoided. It is always good to have clear discussions with the doctors as the child continues to grow and decide on the type of activities recommended for them.
5. Periodic checkups: Make sure to calendarize your child’s periodic checkups with the pediatric cardiologist for complete risk assessment and health check. If any complications arise, they can be immediately dealt with without putting the baby’s life at further risk.
6. Take therapy sessions to cope up better: Stay informed and seek support to cope up with the situation better. There might be innumerable episodes filled with stress and anxiety. Consult a counselor to manage stress and keep yourself abreast with the right information to manage emergencies better.