More than 1.5 lac infants are born in India annually with congenital heart disease. Around 78,000 infants die of congenital heart disease in India every year.
So What Is Congenital Heart Disease?
Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) is when a child is born with an abnormality in his/her heart. It could be abnormal in the way it’s structured (have parts of the organ missing, have functional problems and/or holes in the chambers. Doctors are often able to diagnose CHD while the child is still in the womb of the mother. CHD is considered to be a life threatening illness and hence can cause emotional turmoil in parents of the child, which in turn affects the psychological development of the unborn child.
Additional alterations immediately after birth for a child can prove to be traumatic, and cause PTSD like symptoms later on in life. For example, a child is often separated from the child’s mother and placed in intensive care immediately after birth, and then they are subjected to invasive medical procedures and tests. An infant with CHD goes through a traumatic event which is often reflected in feeding problems, nightmares and over all behavior of the infant.
According to Dr.Vihan Sanyal, psychotherapist, “Parents of children with CHD can seek the help of a skilled psychotherapist for their children’s psychological health while they are children. This will give the therapist to address the issue early on and help improve the quality of life of the child well into adulthood”
Early stressful experiences of a child can alter the child’s brain development, affect their immune system (the child tends to fall sick more often) and disturb the way a child reacts to stressful events in future life. Studies have proven that children who have been exposed to highly stressful environments early on in childhood often have issues with cognition and in processing of emotions.
Neonatal care, pediatric care, adolescent years and adulthood of a person diagnosed with CHD is often complex and challenging for the person. The psychological impact this creates is profound and can lead to suicide in adulthood if not managed properly.
Dr.Sanyal explains: “Children with CHD have difficulties with motor skills, speech, focus & attention, executive functioning, impulse control, management of emotions and behavior. The change in the structure of the brain and in brain chemistry can tarnish the image a child has of himself. He can quickly form an opinion of himself as being “abnormal”, leading to self esteem issues. It is important for children to be helped by a skilled psychotherapist, who is proficient in dealing with psychological issues of children living with CHD. Timely therapeutic intervention can provide the support a child requires in coping with the emotional challenges of CHD.”
Psychiatric disorders, in particular mood and anxiety disorders are more frequent in Adults with CHD compared to Non-CHD adults.
Life threat to the fetus is an important key factor for emotional disturbance during pregnancy for the parents. It is also an indication of long term psychological disorders faced by the parents of the child with CHD.
Studies have indicated that more than 30% of parents with children who have been diagnosed with CHD show signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 50% of them have shown to have anxiety and depression. More than 80% of these parents have tested positive for psychological stress related disorders.
“MNLP & other modalities of psychotherapy can help the parents of those who have recently been diagnosed with CHD. MNLP can help in building resilience in the parents and equip them to face the challenges which lay ahead without disintegrating emotionally. Hypnotherapy can be used to promote relaxation and to address issues of trauma in the subconscious” Say’s Dr.Sanyal
Contributory Factors While Pregnant Which Can Result In CHD
· Smoking during pregnancy
· Consuming alcohol during pregnancy
· Exposure To Poor Air Quality (pollution)
· Exposure to Toxic Chemicals (Even common household chemicals like toilet cleaners and detergents)
· Exposure to pesticides and insecticides
· Medicines not meant to be consumed during pregnancy
· Obesity in mothers
In addition to the above list, symptoms of anxiety and depression in pregnant women often go undetected and hence, remain untreated. It is also important to mention that a range of symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, marital harmony and quality of relationship the parents share with each other all have an effect on the fetus’s psychological health.
Dr.Sanyal says: “Many pregnant women of our country are unaware of some of the precautions they need to take during pregnancy. More importantly, they are unaware of the harmful effects the unborn child could face due to their habit and behavior. Many psychological disorders and mental illnesses can be prevented by pregnant women choosing to lead a balanced and a relatively stress free life during their pregnancy.”