As I flipped through a recent Parents magazine, one of the articles stood out to me because it hit close to home. The article was titled, “Mending Broken Hearts” and talked about diagnosing and treating various heart defects in newborns and children. It spoke to me personally because my son was born with a ventricular septal defect, commonly referred to as VSD. According to Mayo Clinic, VSD is “a common heart defect that’s present at birth (congenital). The defect involves an opening (hole) in the heart forming between the heart’s lower chambers, allowing oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor blood to mix.” Small VSDs do not present with any problems, while larger VSDs may cause a bluish tint to a baby’s skin, lips or fingernails. Many times, the defect is never discovered or not diagnosed until adulthood.
The pediatrician discovered our son’s heart murmur during his first checkup in the hospital and we were immediately referred to a pediatric cardiologist at Riley Children’s Hospital where he was diagnosed with VSD. Fortunately, VSD is treatable. More than likely, our son’s VSD will close on its own, and even if it doesn’t, it’s so small it will not cause any future problems.
So what can be done to prevent heart defects like VSD? As the Parents’ article explained, unfortunately not much since the exact cause of the defects are largely unknown. The article did offer some suggestions for steps a pregnant woman can take to lower the odds:
Take a daily vitamin. However, because a multivitamin will only work to prevent birth defects when taken at least a month before conception, it’s suggested that all women within in childbearing age take a daily multivitamin just to be safe. Look for a multivitamin that includes folic acid, the key nutrient that prevents birth defects.
Get vaccinated. Stay up-to-date on the Rubella vaccine and get a flu shot every year.
Watch your blood sugar. If you get gestational diabetes, keep your blood sugar under control. Persistently high levels are known to cause birth defects.
Watch what medicines you take during pregnancy. Ask your doctor before taking anything while pregnant, even OTC drugs.