How are pediatric congenital heart defects treated?

Many children who are born with heart defects do not need treatment. In these cases, the defects are mild or they simply correct on their own (for instance, an atrial septal defect may close on its own).

For children who have a heart defect that must be treated, there are 2 main options: treatment with a catheter, or open heart surgery.

Catheter treatment

Treatment with a catheter is much easier for the child to go through than surgery. Instead of opening the body with an incision as in surgery, the doctor makes a small cut in the skin and inserts a catheter (a thin tube) into the body through an artery or vein.

Catheters are used to treat simple heart defects, such as an atrial septal defect. In this procedure, the catheter is moved through a vein until it reaches the septum (the wall on the inside of the heart). There, the catheter places a small device into the septal defect to close it up. The catheter is then removed.

To treat pulmonary valve stenosis, the catheter is equipped with a small balloon that is inflated at the pulmonary valve in order to separate the fused leaflets.

Open heart surgery

In cases where the heart defect cannot be treated with a catheter, the child may need open heart surgery. In these situations, the pediatric heart surgeon opens the chest and operates directly on the heart to repair the defect. This type of treatment is usually done for more serious heart defects.

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