Cyanotic heart disease
Cyanotic heart disease refers to a group of many different heart defects that are present at birth (congenital). They result in a low blood oxygen level. Cyanosis refers to a bluish color of the skin and mucous membranes.
Right-to-left cardiac shunt; Right-to-left circulatory shunt
Normally, blood returns from the body and flows through the heart and lungs.
Heart defects that children are born with can change the way blood flows through the heart and lungs. This causes non-oxygenated blood to be pumped out to the body without going through the lungs to pick up oxygen. As a result:
Many of these heart defects involve the heart valves. Heart valves are found between the heart and the large blood vessels that bring blood to and from the heart. These valves open up enough for blood to flow through. Then they close, keeping blood from flowing backward.
Heart valve defects that can cause cyanosis include:
Other heart defects that may cause cyanosis include:
Cyanotic heart diseases may be caused by:
Some heart defects cause major problems right after birth.
The main symptom is cyanosis. This is a bluish color of the lips, fingers, and toes that is caused by the low oxygen content in the blood. It may occur while the child is resting or only when the child is active.
Some children have breathing problems (dyspnea). They may get into a squatting position after physical activity to relieve breathlessness.
Others have spells, in which their bodies are suddenly starved of oxygen. During these spells, symptoms may include:
Infants may get tired or sweat while feeding and may not gain as much weight as they should.
Fainting (syncope) and chest pain may occur.
Other symptoms depend on the type of cyanotic heart disease, and may include:
Exams and Tests
Physical examination confirms cyanosis. Older children may have clubbed fingers.
The doctor will listen to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope. Abnormal heart sounds, a heart murmur, and lung crackles may be heard.
Tests will vary depending on the cause, but may include:
Some infants may need to stay in the hospital after birth so they can receive oxygen or be put on a breathing machine. They may receive medicines to:
The treatment of choice for most congenital heart diseases is surgery to repair the defect. There are many types of surgery, depending on the kind of birth defect. Surgery may be needed soon after birth, or it may be delayed for months or even years.
Your child may need to take water pills (diuretics) and other heart medicines before or after surgery. Be sure to follow the correct dosage. Regular follow-up with the doctor is important.
Many children who have had heart surgery must take antibiotics before, and sometimes after having any dental work or other medical procedures. Make sure you have clear instructions from your child's heart doctor.
Ask your child's doctor before getting any immunizations. Most children can follow the recommended guidelines for childhood vaccinations.
The outlook depends on the specific disorder.
Complications of cyanotic heart disease include:
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if your baby has:
Women who are pregnant should get good prenatal care.
Some inherited factors may play a role in congenital heart disease. Many family members may be affected. If you are planning to get pregnant, talk to your doctor about screening for genetic diseases.
Bernstein D. Cyanotic congenital heart disease. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 429.
Webb GD, Smallhorn JF, Therrien J, Redington AN. Congenital heart disease. In: Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 62.
Review Date: 10/22/2015
Reviewed By: Larry A. Weinrauch, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Cardiovascular Disease and Clinical Outcomes Research, Watertown, MA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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