How are pediatric congenital heart defects treated?

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Dr. Sameer A. Sayeed, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Pediatric congenital heart defects can be treated in several ways depending on the severity of the defect. Treatment can range from medications alone for milder defects, to a combination of medications and catheter-based, minimally invasive treatments for more complex problems, to open heart surgical repair or heart transplant for more severe cases. Sometimes, pacemakers are also necessary depending on the defect.

If the baby has a heart defect such as hydrocephalus, a condition where the fluid that flows through the spinal cord and brain is blocked, a surgeon may implant a tube that allows excess fluid to be siphoned off through the catheter into another part of the body, such as the abdomen, the heart, or near a lung. The child may need additional surgery later on, possibly to repair the spinal cord. In addition to surgery, physical therapy is often necessary. However, sometimes defects like spina bifida are mild enough to require no treatment.

Among the treatments for pediatric congenital heart defects, researchers have found a way to take pediatric skin cells, reprogram the skin cells to function as heart valvular cells and then use the cells as part of a tissue-engineered pulmonary valve. While the study was conducted in vitro (outside of the body), the next step will be implanting the new valves into people to test their durability and longevity. This study is particularly important for young people who often require repeated operations for pulmonary valve replacements.

Pediatric congenital heart defects are treated differently depending on which defect is present and the severity. Mild defects are sometimes just watched over time, while others are immediately life-threatening and require surgery. If your child has a congenital heart defect, he/she should be seen by a pediatric cardiologist to determine the correct treatment.

Pediatric congenital heart defects are complex, but many can be treated without surgery. In this video, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Emile Bacha describes surgical and nonsurgical treatments for congenital heart defects.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.