Word on Health

Word on Little Hearts Matter

Our grateful thanks to Little Hearts Matter for their contribution to our radio report and for the use of the information below. To connect through to the charity click here.

The Normal Heart -  The heart is a clever pump. Its job is to collect and send blood to different parts of the body. Blood contains all the things we need to make energy: oxygen, nutrients (food) and water, which it takes to every part of the body so that every part of the body has the energy it needs to work, grow and repair.

The body’s circulation has red blood that is filled with oxygen and blue blood that is empty of oxygen.

The heart has two sides. The right side’s job is to collect blue blood from the head, neck and body into the top right chamber (the right atrium). It then passes into the bottom chamber (the right ventricle) which pumps the blood to the lungs. The lungs do their job and pass oxygen into the blood; this turns the blood red. This oxygen-filled blood then needs to be pumped around the body by the heart. The red blood is collected in the top left chamber (the left atrium) and then passes to the lower chamber (the left ventricle) that pumps the blood out of the heart and around the body.

The circulation before birth (fetal circulation) - When the baby is still in the mother’s womb it does not need to breathe for itself as the mother is supplying all the oxygen to the baby via the umbilical cord.

The circulation before birth is different from that after birth. It is designed so that the oxygen-filled blood from the umbilical cord goes to the most important parts of the body, for example, the brain. Very little blood needs to go to the lungs.

The heart has designed a series of bypass systems. There is a hole between the upper collecting chambers (the left and right atria) called the foramen ovale. Some oxygen-filled blood passes from the right to the left collecting chamber then on into the left pumping chamber (left ventricle) which pumps the blood around the body. Some blood continues from the right collecting chamber down into the right pumping chamber where it is pumped up to the lungs, via the pulmonary artery.

The second bypass is a connection between the lung artery (pulmonary artery) and the body artery (aorta). The connection is called the ductus arteriosus (duct). Blood passes from the right pumping chamber (right ventricle) into the lung artery (pulmonary artery). Some of the blood travels through the lungs but most of it flows through the duct to the body artery (aorta) and around the body.

When the baby is born and starts to breathe for itself, the bypass systems are no longer needed. Gradually over the first few days or weeks after birth, the duct (ductus arteriosus) and the hole (foramen ovale) between the upper two pumping chambers will close off and the baby’s circulation will be as described by the heart condition diagnosis (as outlined in the following sections).

Why has my baby got something wrong with its heart? The baby’s heart is being formed at around the fifth week of a pregnancy, just at the stage when you realise you are pregnant. In most cases it is impossible to give a specific reason for there being a heart defect. In the majority of cases the reason is not currently known.


There are a number of factors which are known to increase the risk of having a baby with a heart problem, such as:

A history of previous children, either parent or other family members having had a congenital heart problem (heart problem that the baby is born with).

There may be a fault in the baby’s genetic make-up which has caused the heart defect, such as diabetes in the mother, particularly if poorly controlled, illegal drug abuse or serious alcoholism, some medications such as those used for the treatment of epilepsy carry a small risk of causing heart problems, but are essential for the mother to keep her healthy and well. Other problems with the baby, for example, stomach or bowel problems.

Did we cause the baby’s problem?  Parents often worry that they are responsible in some way for the baby’s heart condition, but it is highly unlikely that there is anything you have done or not done which would have caused the problem.

Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.