Congenital Heart Defects
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Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital Heart Defects Screening and Prevention

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Almost all newborns in the United States are screened for congenital heart defects shortly after birth. However, if you are at high risk for having a baby with a congenital heart defect, your doctor may recommend screening before the baby is born or strategies to help prevent a congenital heart defect.

Screening before a baby is born

Echocardiography or echo is a painless test that uses sound waves to create moving pictures of the heart. Your doctor may recommend a fetal echocardiogram during pregnancy if your routine ultrasound shows any sign that your developing baby may have a heart defect or if you have risk factors for a congenital heart defect.

Newborn screenings

Pulse oximetry is a test that can tell whether a newborn has low levels of oxygen in the blood, which may be a symptoms of critical congenital heart defects. The test involves attaching sensors to the baby’s hands or feet to measure oxygen levels and is recommended for all newborns in the United States.

Low oxygen levels in the blood could be due to a congenital heart defect or could be a sign that something else is wrong. If your child has low oxygen levels, the doctor may repeat the test, or may run more tests to diagnose a congenital heart defect.

Can congenital heart defects be prevented?

While you cannot always prevent a congenital heart defect, you can take steps to lower your baby’s risk.

  • Avoid certain medicines if you are trying to get pregnant or are pregnant. Talk to your doctor about what medicines you take and ask which are safe to take during pregnancy
  • Control existing medical conditions, such as diabetes and phenylketonuria, which can raise your risk of having a baby with a congenital heart defect
  • Meet with a genetics counselor if you, your spouse, or one of your children have a congenital heart disease and you are planning to have another child. A genetic counselor can answer questions about the risks and explain the choices that are available
  • Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke
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