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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, your heart is located on the right side of your chest, but it has no other defects. Dextrocardia can also occur in a condition called situs inversus. With it, many or all of your visceral organs are on the mirror-image side of your body. For example, in addition to your heart, your liver, spleen, or other organs may also be located on the opposite, or "wrong" side of your body.
If you have dextrocardia, you may have other heart, organ, or digestive defects related to your anatomy. Surgery can sometimes correct these problems.
The cause of dextrocardia is unknown. Researchers do know that it occurs during fetal development. The heart’s anatomy may have many variations. For example, in isolated dextrocardia, your heart’s completely intact but faces the right side instead of the left. In other forms of dextrocardia, you may have defects in the heart’s chambers or valves.
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 shifted towards the right side of your body. In this case, you’re more likely to have other heart defects and problems with other vital organs. Multi-organ defects are known as heterotaxy syndrome.
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. With isolated dextrocardia, the cilia in your lungs may not function normally. 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. These include breathing difficulties, blue lips and skin, and fatigue. Children with dextrocardia may not grow or develop correctly, and thus may need heart surgery to correct a defect.
Lack of oxygen to your heart can make you tired and keep you from growing normally. Abnormalities that affect your liver can cause jaundice, which is a yellowing of your skin and eyes.
A baby with dextrocardia 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 the baby’s heart. This will usually result in a heart murmur.
Babies with dextrocardia may also have been born without a spleen. The spleen is a major part of the immune system. Without a spleen, your baby has a higher risk of developing infections throughout the body.
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.
You may have more infections than the average person if you have dextrocardia. Medications can reduce your risk of infection. If you don’t have a spleen or it doesn’t work properly, your doctor will prescribe antibiotic medications to prevent infection. You may need to take antibiotics over the long term to fight off respiratory illness.
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. For that reason, your doctor will watch out for an abdominal obstruction, also called bowel or intestinal obstruction. An obstruction prevents waste from leaving your body.
Intestinal obstruction is dangerous, and if it’s not treated, it can be life-threatening. You may need surgery to correct any obstructions.
People with isolated dextrocardia often live a normal life. Your doctor will help you prevent infections if you’re at a higher risk of getting sick. If you have a more complicated case of dextrocardia, you may face health problems throughout your life.
Written by: Erica Roth
Medically reviewed on: Apr 24, 2017: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine
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