What Is Dextrocardia?

Dextrocardia is a rare heart condition in which your heart points toward the right side of your chest instead of the left side. Dextrocardia is congenital, which means people are born with this abnormality. Less than 1 percent of the general population is born with dextrocardia.

If you have isolated dextrocardia, you have dextrocardia and a completely healthy heart. If you have isolated dextrocardia, you may also have situs inversus. This happens when your liver, spleen, or other organs are also located on the opposite side of your body.

If you have dextrocardia, you may have other heart, organ, or digestive problems related to your anatomy. These issues can sometimes be corrected through surgery.

Causes of Dextrocardia

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The cause of dextrocardia is unknown. Your heart may develop so that it points towards the right side of your chest during fetal development but it functions normally. This is usually the case when your heart is a mirror image of a normal heart. In other words, your heart’s ventricles, arteries, and other structures are all arranged as a mirror image of normal heart structures.

Sometimes, your heart develops pointing the wrong way because other anatomical problems exist. Defects in your lungs, abdomen, or chest can cause your heart to develop so that it's pointing towards the right side of your body. You’re more likely to have other heart defects and problems with other vital organs in this case. Multi-organ defects are referred to as heterotaxy syndrome.

Symptoms of Dextrocardia

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Isolated dextrocardia usually causes no symptoms. The condition is usually found when an X-ray or an MRI of your chest shows the location of your heart on the right side of your chest.

Some people with isolated dextrocardia have an increased risk of lung infections, sinus infections, or pneumonia. You may have reduced function of the cilia in your lungs if you have isolated dextrocardia. Cilia are very fine hairs that filter the air you breathe. When the cilia are unable to filter out all viruses and germs, you may get sick more often.

Dextrocardia that affects your heart function can cause a variety of symptoms, including breathing difficulties, blue lips and skin, and fatigue. Children with dextrocardia may not grow or develop correctly.

Lack of oxygen reaching your heart can make you tired and prevent you from growing normally. Abnormalities that affect your liver can cause jaundice, which is a yellowing of your skin and eyes.

If your baby has dextrocardia, they may also have holes in the septum of their heart. The septum is the divider between the left and right heart chambers. Septal defects can cause problems with the way that blood flows in and out of their heart. This will usually result in a heart murmur.

If your baby has dextrocardia, they may also have been born without a spleen. The spleen is a major part of the immune system. Your baby has a higher risk of developing infections throughout their body if they have no spleen.

Treating Dextrocardia

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Dextrocardia must be treated if it prevents vital organs from functioning properly. Pacemakers and surgery to repair septal defects can help the heart work normally.

Your doctor will prescribe antibiotic medications to prevent infection if your spleen is missing or not working properly. Long-term antibiotics may be used to fight off respiratory illness. Medications can reduce your risk of infection. You may have more infections than the average person if you have dextrocardia.

Your doctor will also watch out for an abdominal obstruction. An abdominal obstruction, also called bowel or intestinal obstruction, prevents waste from leaving your body. Your heart pointing towards your right side makes blockages in your digestive system more likely. This is because dextrocardia can sometimes result in a condition called intestinal malrotation, in which your gut doesn’t develop correctly.

Intestinal obstruction is dangerous, and it can be life-threatening if it’s left untreated. Surgery is required to correct any obstructions.

Long-Term Outlook

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People with isolated dextrocardia often live a normal life. You may face health problems throughout your life if you have a more complicated case of it, however. Your doctor will help you prevent infections if you’re at a higher risk of getting sick.

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