One of the most harrowing documents I’ve ever had to read and then explain to someone was the autopsy report of my brother. He was just 24 years old when he died of a heart attack. A grown man, but still very much my little brother and my parent’s child. My science background put me in the unenviable position of reading the autopsy to explain to my parents in gentler terms why he died. As I said, harrowing.
Terms like “probable congenital heart defect” and “myocardial bridging” littered the autopsy report.
What does that mean? Probable congenital heart defect?
The coroner didn’t definitively know what caused the irregular rhythm or why the major artery that feeds the heart with blood was positioned within the heart muscle rather than on top (myocardial bridging). The issues revealed in the autopsy had probably existed at birth (congenital). The defects could have a genetic origin, or perhaps a series of developmental missteps during his time in my mother’s womb or the first month after birth that resulted in my brother’s beautiful, but defective heart. Maybe my mother was exposed to environmental toxins during pregnancy resulting in this horrifying cacophony of heart defects. Even the diets of parents prior to conception can have a role in the development of congenital disorders in their offspring. The reasons behind congenital defects are varied, complex and not as uncommon as we’d like. Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defects. One in 110 babies are born with a heart defect. Yes, one in 110.
It sounds hopeless, so many factors, so high the numbers of children and families impacted, but it isn’t hopeless. Medical research forges on, and gives us hints on how to reduce the factors that contribute to congenital heart defects. Not all birth defects can be prevented, but we can lower the odds.The following information is from the National Birth Defects Prevention Network.
1. Take a multivitamin with folic acid every day
Folic acid, a type of B vitamin, can help prevent birth defects such as spina bifida and congenital heart defects. It is important to have enough folic acid in your body evenbefore you get pregnant. Every woman who is pregnant or may become pregnant should take at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. To receive text message reminders about taking folic acid and other health tips for preventing birth defects from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), text REMINDERS to 87000.
2. Don’t drink alcohol or smoke tobacco during pregnancy
Drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco in pregnancy may increase the risk of having a baby with a heart defect. In addition, alcohol use in pregnancy can cause a child to have serious learning and behavior problems. There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy, so it is best not to smoke or drink at all if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
Need help quitting smoking? Visit www.smokefree.gov or call toll-free 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
3. Talk to your doctor about medicines that you take
Some medications can increase the risk of having a baby with a heart defect. On the other hand, avoiding needed medications can be harmful. It is best to talk to your doctor about all of your medications before becoming pregnant, so that you and your doctor can agree on a treatment plan that is healthiest for you and your unborn baby. Also, be sure to tell your doctor about any herbal remedies or over-the-counter vitamin or mineral supplements you are taking.
For free information about the safety of medications and other exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding, call OTIS at 1-866-626-6847.
4. If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar in good control
Women with poorly controlled diabetes before and during pregnancy are at increased risk to have a baby with birth defects, including heart defects. Very high blood sugar levels can also increase the chance of pregnancy complications, of having an extra large baby, and of having a baby that is at increased risk for childhood obesity and diabetes. You can keep your blood sugar in a healthy range by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and taking medications (pills or insulin) as ordered by your doctor.
5. Maintain a healthy weight, both before and during pregnancy
Being very overweight (obese) may increase the chance of having a baby with a congenital heart defect. Obesity can also lead to the development of diabetes, which can have health risks for you and a baby.
6. Get vaccinated
Some infections during pregnancy, such as rubella, can increase the risk of congenital heart defects and other birth defects. Before you become pregnant, talk to your doctor about whether your vaccinations are up to date. Influenza (the flu) is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women who are not pregnant. It is recommended that all women who are pregnant or may become pregnant during the flu season get the flu shot.
7. Know your family history
Certain genetic factors can increase the chance of having a baby with a heart defect. If someone in your family was born with a heart defect, or if you have questions about genetic testing for heart defects, ask your doctor for a referral to a genetic counselor.
To find a genetic counselor near you, go to the National Society of Genetic Counselors’ website (www.nsgc.org) and click on Find a Genetic Counselor.
We don’t know what caused that probable congenital heart defect in my brother -genetics, environment, some combination of the two. If you’re planning to get pregnant take control of the factors you can to lower the chance of birth defects. January is Birth Defect Prevention Month. Check out the National Birth Defect Prevention Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.
Reblogged from TMC for Children