When it comes to matters of the heart, unless there’s a problem, it’s so easy to take if for granted. Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are some of the most common forms of birth defects. Each year approximately 40,000 U.S. infants are affected by CHDs according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly 25% of babies with a CHD are considered critical and need surgery or other procedures within the first year of their lives. Fortunately for those infants and the nearly 1 million U.S. adults who have CHDs, most are able to live healthier lives for longer periods of time thanks to modern medicine and skilled medical professionals.
In the normal well-functioning heart, there are four pulmonary veins that return oxygen-rich (red) blood from the lungs to the left atrium of the heart. From there, blood flows through the left ventricle to the aorta where it’s pumped to the rest of the body. That’s not the case for those living with Partial Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return, or PAPVR. The easiest way to describe it: PAPVR is a rare heart defect in which the pulmonary veins do not connect normally to the left atrium. Instead, one or more of the pulmonary veins are redirected to the right atrium by way of an abnormal (anomalous) connection. This causes oxygen-rich blood to flow back to the lungs instead of continuing to pump into the rest of the body. Those with PAPVR may not realize they have symptoms but may report having shortness of breath during exercise. They may also have problems breathing while laying or sleeping flat on their backs, or may believe they ‘pulled a muscle’ in the upper left area of the chest. In any case, it’s something that should be closely monitored by a physician or cardiologist.
PAPVR is bad enough, but there are similar forms of defects that are more severe. Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venus Return (TAPVR), where all of the pulmonary veins (total) do not connect as they should to the left atrium, is worse. Children and adults who have PAPVR may also have Atrial Septal Defect (ASD). ASD, occasionally referred to as a hole in the heart, is an opening in the wall between the right and left atrium. Regardless of when the congenital defect is detected, at birth or during adulthood, there are several things that can be done to maintain a healthier heart. The top eight things we can all do to improve our heart health, includes:
- Consuming low-fat dairy products.
- Remembering to breathe and enjoy life.
- Adopting obesity-reducing habits (including not forgetting to eat fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and colorful vegetables).
- Watching and reducing the intake of table salt (sodium).
- Staying hydrated; don’t forget to drink water!
- Adopting healthier lifestyles (e.g., avoid cigarettes, get proper rest, etc.).
- Getting and staying connected with health care providers (and specialist when needed) to ensure that professionals have complete, accurate and truthful medical information.
Click here to see the slideshow: Trans Fats: A journey back through time. Where are we now? To see an interactive view of the normal heart for adults (advanced learners), click here. The see an interactive view of the normal heart for children (with audio), click here. To read more on TAPVR and PAPVR (CDC), click here. If you’re looking for St. Louis community health centers to discuss your personal heart and health matters, click here. To read the disclaimer for this article, click here.