Congenital Heart Disease in Your Premature Baby

Heart Disease or Congenital Heart Disease is one of the most common forms of birth defects and there is often no known cause. Heart problems develop during the first 8 weeks of a baby’s development, and this is often before a woman even knows she is pregnant. Because of this, many women sometimes feel that they are responsible in some way for their baby’s heart problem, but this is usually not the case at all.

Heart problems can be very severe as one would expect requiring surgery and/or medication, but they can also be so minor that the defect will heal on its own in time. Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA) or Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) are examples of heart diseases that can close up on their own without any medical interference. In a premature baby these types of problems can be life-threatening depending on severity, and may require serious medical intervention.

PDA is the most common heart disease among premature babies. Before a baby is born there is an opening between two blood vessels, the pulmonary artery and the aorta, allowing the blood to mix. This opening closes soon after the baby is born keeping the blood from returning to the lungs. However, this opening does not have the chance to close when the baby is not mature at birth, and this hole closes usually on its own as a premature baby matures.

PDA is diagnosed using several different methods. A complete medical history, complete physical, electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, x-ray, or cardiac catheterization are the most common methods used to determine PDA. Medicine is often used to correct PDA, but if a premature baby does not respond favorably to the medication, surgery may be needed to close the opening.

Premature baby girls are more likely to develop PDA than boys, and some of the symptoms of this disease are tachypnea (rapid breathing), tachycardia (rapid heart rate), enlarged heart, diaphoresis (perspiration), cyanosis (bluish skin & mucous membranes), heart sounds (rumble, murmur, thrill, or a second heart beat), and an erratic pulse and/or pressure.