DUBAI // Although the rate of children born with congenital heart defects in the UAE is about the same as the world average, experts say cases in the Emirates are more complex.
Dr Shahraban Abdulla, a paediatric consultant cardiologist at Latifa Hospital, said this was largely due to consanguineous marriages.
"It is well known that if both parents have a history, then the child is more likely to develop more complicated forms of the disease," Dr Abdulla said.
"Once parents have a child born with a congenital heart defect, there is a 25 per cent chance that the next child will also be affected."
Eight out of every 1,000 babies worldwide are born with congenital heart disease. Doctors say triggers include chromosomal anomalies, rubella infections and poorly controlled diabetes in the mother.
Congenital heart defects are typically detected soon after birth when doctors conduct routine check-ups.
A heart murmur and low oxygen levels in the blood are the primary indicators, Dr Abdulla said.
"Most children do not present symptoms," she said. "But if there is an abnormality picked up in the check-up we request further examination."
A foetal echo-cardiogram is conducted when doctors suspect that there is an increased chance of a defect.
"This is important because it prepares us so that we are not shocked when the baby is born," Dr Abdulla said. "It allows us to take action immediately after delivery."
Other indicators that parents should beware of include blue complexion, poor feeding, sweating, fatigue and weight gain.
In December, the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi added pulse oximetry tests to its newborn screening programme. The test uses a light probe to measure the level of oxygen in the baby's blood.
While the devices are commonly used in hospitals, neonatal screening is not a requirement in Dubai.
According to the Children's National Heart Institute in the US, blood-oxygen levels should not drop below 95 per cent. But the physical check-up only allows the human eye to detect a drop in oxygen if it is below 80 per cent, which leaves out children who fall between the 80 and 95 per cent marks.
"We are pushing to make it [pulse oximetry] part of the neonatal-screening programme," Dr Abdulla said. "It is part of our future plans."