Some common misconceptions about heart disease in children
- All holes in the heart close as the child grows. This misconception has caused many children to become inoperable. Parents of the child keep on waiting for the hole to close when actually it will not. Waiting causes irreversible damage to the lung vessels. Thus a child who could have a healthy life (after getting operated) may be condemned to die young. Only certain kinds of holes in the heart may close on their own. A pediatric cardiologist is the best person to decide which hole may close on its own.
- We have to wait until the baby is 10kg before we can operate. Most children with significant holes in their heart will never gain weight until they are operated. A child with a large hole in the heart who weighs 4kg at 5months will probably never be 10kg. The bigger argument against the 10kg barrier is that the weight does not make a difference to the pediatric heart surgeon. He can operate on a 2kg baby if the need arises.
- A hole can be closed by medicines. No hole in the heart can be closed by any medicine.
- My baby has a hole in the heart. I should make sure that she does not cry or else it will hurt her. A hole in the heart or most other heart diseases in children do not cause any pain to the baby.
- My son has a hole in the heart. I dont agree with the cardiologist who has recommended surgery for it as my son is fit and appears in good health. A hole in the heart causes the heart to work to work harder and the heart also becomes bigger. These changes, in the early stages, do not cause any symptoms but can be readily seen on the echocardiogram. These changes indicate that surgery is advisable sooner rather than later. Also, certain holes that are small, may still need to be closed because they are hurting the nearby valves and may cause irreversible damage to them.
- My grand-daughter has a heart defect. The cardiologist says she will be fine after surgery. But I think she will be a heart patient her entire life. She wont be able to run and play and do other normal things in childhood. The most common kinds of heart defects, if corrected in time, do not affect life after surgery. While it is essential to get periodically checked, life is normal just like any other child. Heart disease in children is NOT the same as having a heart attack surgery in an adult.
- My toddler has recently undergone heart surgery for a hole in the heart. I have to make sure I dont give her any butter or oil or paneer in her diet. Just like any other toddler, children operated for heart defects need normal amounts of fat in the diet that is essential for the growth of their brains and bodies.
- I must have done something wrong in my pregnancy. Thats why my baby has a heart defect. The heart is formed by the end of the 2nd month of pregnancy. A lot of research has been done (and is ongoing) on why heart defects occur. However, little seems to be in control of the pregnant woman. Certainly, nothing she does after the 2nd month of pregnancy, affects the formation of the babys heart as it is already formed by then.
Dr Swati Garekar
American Board Certified (peds cardiology)
Consultant Pediatric Cardiologist