Is Congenital Heart Disease Genetic?

December 10, 2022
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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When children are diagnosed with a serious condition like congenital heart disease, it is natural for a parent to want to understand the cause. Knowledge can be power, and by learning the contributing factors you can gain clarity and focus when it comes to treating and caring for your little one.

With congenital heart disease, one of the most common questions is whether this condition is related to genetic factors, environmental factors, or both. We’re happy to share this helpful overview so you can gain a better understanding of this question and some of the potential answers.

What is congenital heart disease?

Congenital heart disease, also known as a congenital heart defect, is any problem with a baby’s heart that is present at birth. Problems with the structure of the heart may develop while the baby is still growing in the womb, and may include small holes, missing parts, or malformed parts.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), congenital heart disease is the most common type of birth defect in the world. These defects affect the way that blood flows through the heart and body which can have severe complications and effects on growth and development. While many congenital heart defects are relatively minor, many warrant surgery within the first year.

Is congenital heart disease genetic?

Genetics can be one of many contributors to congenital heart disease. In a majority of cases, doctors are unable to positively identify the exact cause of congenital heart disease. Because genes are basically the body’s instruction manual that helps build every single part from the bones, to nerves, to the heart, genetic factors are usually at or near the top of the list of suspected causes for a congenital heart defect.

There are several ways that genetics could cause congenital heart disease. In some situations, it could be due to a missing or defective chromosome or a defect in a particular gene.

These genetic problems can be inherited from one or both parents, but in other situations, they can develop spontaneously in the womb. It is also important to understand that many cases of congenital heart disease happen due to a combination or interaction of different causes including both environmental and genetic factors.

Causes of Congenital Heart Disease

There are a number of potential contributors and risk factors that have been associated with congenital heart disease in babies. These including:

  • Preexisting conditions in the mother, such as diabetes or obesity
  • Certain medications used during pregnancy, such as lithium and anti-seizure medications
  • Smoking during pregnancy
  • Using assisted reproduction technology

Often, it can be difficult for a doctor to identify a single one of these factors as being the direct cause of congenital heart disease.

Congenital Heart Disease Symptoms

Symptoms of congenital heart disease depend on the individual defect. While some may be relatively minor and not cause symptoms, others can be life-threatening and require immediate attention. Some of the most common symptoms associated with congenital heart disease include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Heart arrhythmias, or murmurs
  • Fatigue and tiredness, especially during feeding
  • Excessive sleepiness

In the most serious cases, these symptoms can require extensive treatment, with medications and surgery.

Diagnosing Congenital Heart Disease

Often, congenital heart disease is identified and diagnosed during pregnancy using an ultrasound that can create pictures of the baby’s heart. During the ultrasound a doctor can see a heart is not developing normally, or that there is a problem such as a hole or malformed valve. In other cases, the defect will be diagnosed after birth, particularly if symptoms are present.

To confirm diagnosis, the doctor can perform certain tests, including an echocardiogram, chest X-ray, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). If genetics are believed to be a cause of the congenital heart defect, genetic testing can be performed before and after birth.

Congenital Heart Disease Treatment

Treatment options will vary depending on the severity of symptoms and the type of heart defect. In some cases, symptoms will be minor enough to only warrant monitoring. In other situations, medication and lifestyle changes, like a special diet or reduced activity levels, may be recommended for some children with congenital heart defects. In more serious cases, surgery to repair the defect or put in a replacement part will be needed.

Caring for a Child With Congenital Heart Disease

Caring for a child with congenital heart disease will depend on severity and type. Infants requiring surgery for congenital heart disease will require monitoring and care before and after any procedure. This includes appointments and diagnostics to make sure the procedure was successful and there is normal heart function.

There are also steps that families take to help ensure a good quality of life for any child with congenital heart disease. For example, counseling and support groups can help children and families alike with addressing and overcoming emotional and psychological challenges.

Another key area of assistance and support can be pediatric home health services. A qualified home health professional will be able to help with a wide range of roles, including assisting with medication and nutritional needs, or providing respite care and accompanying your child to appointments.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help. We have been enforcing precautionary measures and following the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 to ensure the safety and health of our clients and employees.

Our home health care services offer one-on-one support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering Pediatric Home Health Care Services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.