Written by Andrew Sarski on January 8, 2011
Causes of Fetal Heart Malformations
Unfortunately, in more than half of the reported cases of a heart malformation, the cause of the defect is unknown. However, most of the known causes are conditions or lifestyle choices that belong to the mother. For example, illness, drug use, alcohol use and the use of certain pharmaceutical medications, namely anticonvulsant drugs, during pregnancy. Any type of illness or medication the mother is exposed to while pregnant can increase the risk of heart malformations in the fetus. Anticonvulsant drugs in particular can affect the development of the fetus, resulting in catastrophic damage to the child’s vital organs and severe birth injuries.
Signs of Heart Malformations
In a normal, healthy heart, the right side of the heart pumps blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen. The oxygen-rich blood is then carried from the lungs to the left side of the heart which, in turn, pumps the blood to the body. When there is a deviance from this process, a heart malformation is likely the culprit. Some typical signs of heart malformations include blue lips and skin, shortness of breath, abnormal heart murmur, difficulty feeding, and diminished strength of the pulse. Two types of heart malformation that have been specifically connected to the use of anticonvulsant medications are hypoplastic right heart syndrome and atrial septal defect.
Types of Heart Malformation Birth Defects
Hypoplastic right heart syndrome is a malformation of the heart in which the right ventricle does not grow properly, preventing it from carrying the appropriate amount of blood pumped from the right atrium. Due to the instability of the ventricle’s muscle structure, additional problems will present themselves as the heart continues to try to pump blood to the pulmonary valve to be carried to the lungs. This type of defect is potentially life-threatening and demands immediate medical attention. If the defect is diagnosed in a fetus, the mother will likely be transferred to a level three hospital with the necessary cardiologists on staff. While there is currently no known way to repair a defect like hypoplastic right heart syndrome, there are specialized surgical procedures intended to alleviate the symptoms of the condition. In most cases though, surgery only buys the child more time; most people with hypoplastic right heart syndrome will require a heart transplant later in life.
A more simple heart malformation is an atrial septal defect (ASD), a hole in the wall of the heart which allows oxygenated blood from the left atrium to mix with the oxygen-poor blood in the right atrium, increasing the amount of blood that flows toward the lungs. This extra flow of blood creates a swooshing sound, known as a heart murmur. Treatment of an ASD typically depends on the child’s size and age as well as the severity of the condition. Minor defects may only require regular check-ups while more severe malformations will require surgery to repair the hole.
Heart Malformation Lawsuits and Drug Injury Lawyers
Depending on the severity of the condition, heart malformations can present severe, potentially fatal, symptoms for an affected child. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a heart malformation and you believe pharmaceuticals to be the cause, contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Many pharmaceutical-related birth injuries have resulted in class action lawsuits. You may be entitled to reimbursement for your injuries and a qualified lawyer can help you collect the compensation you deserve.