Congenital heart disease (CHD) is a structural and functional defect of the heart that is present at birth. In Canada and most developed nations, children born with congenital heart disease are treated immediately without delay. Yet for children born in developing countries, a congenital heart disease is often considered a death sentence.
Early Development of the Human Heart
The human heart begins to develop as a tubular structure at about the fourth week of pregnancy, and continues to grow until 8 weeks. During this period, the tube begins to folds in on itself to form a loop, and structures develop within to divide the heart into different chambers. Molecular signals guide this process, and it is during this sensitive period of growth where heart defect have the potential to occur.
Causes of CHD
Interplay between genetic and environmental factors may cause CHD by disrupting specific signals that help the fetal heart develop. Oftentimes, it is difficult to pinpoint an exact, specific cause of a particular defect, but the generalities are understood. Medications and drugs, environmental toxins, maternal illnesses, and chromosome abnormalities are all known to increase the risk of CHD.
What defects can occur?
Holes in the heart, obstructed blood flow, abnormal blood vessels, heart valve abnormalities, or a combination of all of these may occur in children suffering from CHD. Some defects may be relatively benign and do not require surgery, while many others necessitate the need for surgical intervention immediately.
In Canada and most developed nations, children born with congenital heart disease are treated without delay. Yet for children born in developing countries, a congenital heart disease is often considered a death sentence.
The Stark Reality
Congenital heart disease is the #1 birth defect worldwide.
5.5 million children are born each year with congenital heart disease.
94% of these children lack access to adequate medical care.