Interconnected Body Systems - Impact of CHD

Interconnected Body Systems - Impact of CHD

In this post, we aim to enlighten and empower, particularly parents of children with heart conditions or adults living with congenital heart defects. We’ll explore the intricate relationships between the cardiovascular system and other body systems, and understand how a heart defect can alter this delicate balance. But we don't stop at comprehension; we step forward into empowerment. This means utilizing our newfound understanding to take proactive action steps, engage in meaningful dialogues with healthcare professionals and education systems to better navigate our journeys. Furthermore, we'll unravel how we can simplify this complex information into engaging, child-friendly language, helping our children better grasp the concept of their unique hearts to enable self-advocacy.


The cardiovascular system, also known as the circulatory system, plays a vital role in maintaining the overall health and functionality of the human body. It consists of the heart, blood vessels, and blood, working together to deliver oxygen, nutrients, hormones, and other essential substances to every cell and organ. But how does the cardiovascular system interact with other systems in the body? And what happens when complex heart defects arise? Let's explore the intricate connections, potential impacts, and action steps to make the most of this information.

How does the cardiovascular system connect with other systems?

The cardiovascular system is intricately connected to several other systems in the body, ensuring their proper functioning and overall well-being. Here are some key connections:

1. Respiratory System:

The respiratory system and the cardiovascular system work hand in hand to ensure the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Oxygen is taken in through the respiratory system and transported by the cardiovascular system to the body's cells, while carbon dioxide, a waste product, is carried back to the lungs to be exhaled.

2. Nervous System:

The cardiovascular system and the nervous system have a close relationship. The brain sends signals to regulate heart rate, blood pressure, and blood vessel constriction or dilation. In return, the cardiovascular system supplies the brain with a constant flow of oxygen and nutrients necessary for its proper functioning.

3. Digestive System:

The cardiovascular system supports the digestive system by transporting nutrients absorbed from the digestive tract to various organs and tissues. It ensures that the energy derived from food is distributed throughout the body efficiently.

4. Endocrine System:

The endocrine system, which includes glands like the thyroid and adrenal glands, relies on the cardiovascular system to transport hormones throughout the body. Hormones play a crucial role in regulating various bodily functions, such as metabolism, growth, and stress responses.

How do complex heart defects impact other systems?

Complex heart defects, such as congenital heart diseases, can have profound effects on other systems in the body. Here are a few examples:

1. Respiratory System:

Heart defects can lead to abnormal blood flow, causing the lungs to work harder to oxygenate the blood. Over time, this increased workload on the respiratory system can result in breathing difficulties, reduced lung function, and even pulmonary hypertension.

2. Nervous System:

In severe cases, complex heart defects can lead to inadequate blood supply to the brain, resulting in developmental delays, learning disabilities, and neurological complications. The brain's overall function heavily relies on a healthy cardiovascular system.

3. Digestive System:

Poor blood circulation due to heart defects can affect the digestive system's ability to absorb nutrients effectively. This can lead to malnutrition, growth delays, and digestive disorders.

4. Renal System:

The kidneys rely on adequate blood flow to filter waste products and maintain fluid balance. Heart defects can disrupt this process, leading to kidney dysfunction and fluid retention.

These are just a few examples of how complex heart defects can impact other systems in the body. The interconnectedness of our bodily systems highlights the importance of maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system and seeking appropriate medical care for any heart-related conditions.

Having this knowledge can lead to new treatments and stronger support networks. It empowers us to speak up for what we need and to tap into resources made just for people with heart conditions. 

Action Steps:

Expect Whole Child Care from Cardio Team. 

Talk with your care team about how heart defects can impact these other systems and if they've established partnerships or programs with other specialists.  Ask questions to gain an understanding of how closely they work together.  Several leading hospitals, for example, are starting up “fontan clinics” for patients with fontan anatomy.  These clinics are focused on the holistic view of the child and include cardiology, exercise physiologists, liver specialists, and behavioral health specialists. 

Advocate for what you need and tap into resources available.  

Many people, even some doctors, might not fully understand how everything is connected, especially for kids. And that means schools, universities, and workplaces might not get it either. It’s on us as parents to understand these connections as well as the resources available to help our kids. Understand that those with a heart defect are covered under disability protection acts.  They typically qualify for learning support and special privileges like having water available with them at all times or the need for climate-control as environments that are too hot or too cold put extra stress on the heart.  It is also important that physical education teachers understand their condition.  This isn’t to treat them differently, but to understand their limitations and areas of expansion - and above all, to ensure their voice is heard, believed, and acted upon appropriately.

Empower Self-Advocacy. 

Teach children about their bodies at an age-appropriate level, so they can self-advocate

Below is a way to imagine the above in terms of a body-city that needs to run smoothly.  This can serve as a guide for communication from a very early age. Also, feel free to connect with child-life specialists and social workers who can help you with this as well.

Our body is like a big, interconnected city where every part has a unique job, but they all work together to keep things running smoothly. One of the superheroes in this bustling body-city of ours is the cardiovascular system. Think of it like the city's transport system, using our heart, blood vessels, and blood to deliver important stuff like oxygen, nutrients, and hormones to every cell and organ. But what happens when there's a bit of a glitch in this system due to complex heart defects? Let's take a fun journey to find out!

How does the cardiovascular system connect with other systems?

Our cardiovascular system is like the city's subway, bus, and train system all in one, linking different parts of the city (our body). Here's how it works with other city departments:

  1. Respiratory System (the city's Oxygen Supply Department): Our lungs take in oxygen and the cardiovascular system picks it up and drops it off at every cell in the city. It also picks up waste (carbon dioxide) and takes it back to the lungs to be sent out of the city.
  2. Nervous System (the city's Control Center): The brain sends signals to control heart rate, blood pressure, and blood vessel size. And our cardiovascular system ensures the brain gets the oxygen and nutrients it needs to keep running smoothly.
  3. Digestive System (the city's Food Processing Plant): Our cardiovascular system picks up nutrients from the digestive tract and delivers them all over the body so everyone has the energy to work.
  4. Endocrine System (the city's Communication Center): This system produces hormones and relies on our cardiovascular system to deliver these messages all over the body.

What happens when there are complex heart defects?

Sometimes, heart defects can cause some traffic jams or detours in our body-city. Here's how that could affect different departments:

  1. Respiratory System: Heart defects can mess with blood flow, making the lungs work extra hard to supply oxygen. Over time, this could lead to breathing problems and even lung-related issues.
  2. Nervous System: If the brain isn't getting enough blood, it can lead to learning challenges, developmental delays, and other neurological issues. It's crucial that our heart keeps the blood flow to the brain steady and strong.
  3. Digestive System: If our heart isn't working well, our digestive system might not get the nutrients it needs, which can lead to growth delays and digestive issues.
  4. Renal System (the city's Waste Management Department): Our kidneys need good blood flow to get rid of waste and keep fluid levels balanced. Heart defects can disrupt this process, causing kidney problems and fluid retention.

Examples of what this may feel like, or when to encourage our kiddos to speak up:

  • Having trouble with reading, math, or keeping up with lessons - it's OK for them to share that they are having a difficult time either with you, their caregiver, or with you + their teacher(s).
  • Feeling thirsty, tired, or just "feeling off" - our bodies communicate with us to let us know what it needs.  Children should know it is OK to share those needs with a trusted adult or guide who is overseeing their activities.
  • Wanting to stay inside during recess because it is too hot or too cold for them - or getting outside and realizing they'd like to come back inside.
  • Feeling "slow" or like they cannot keep up with their friends during moments of activity.  

Of course, this list is not exhaustive.  We encourage you to meet with school administration, teachers, gym teachers, and recess aides who may come in contact with your child.  Let them know ahead of time that your child is learning to speak up for how their body is feeling and that their requests should be honored. 

Have alternative options documented in advance through a 504 plan or an individualized education plan (IEP) as appropriate.

Getting the lowdown on how our heart works with the rest of our body helps us truly appreciate how amazing our bodies are. Making sure those with unique hearts understand this is a big step towards feeling great all over and making the most of the awesome machinery we are living in.


Armed with knowledge and understanding, we find ourselves better equipped to engage meaningfully with healthcare providers, tap into specialized resources for heart conditions, and advocate effectively for ourselves or our children. The power of this understanding provides us with the ability to shape our healthcare journey, converting challenges into opportunities for growth. For our young ones, we've discovered ways to explain these complex biological concepts in an age-appropriate, digestible manner, empowering them to understand their unique physiological conditions and stand up for themselves when necessary.

Ultimately, this exploration isn't just about understanding a heart condition or another health challenge; it's about celebrating the remarkable resilience and interconnectedness of our bodies. It's about leveraging our bodies' exceptional capabilities to their fullest, despite the challenges. As we continue to learn, adapt, and advocate, we ensure that we, especially those of us with unique hearts, can lead healthier, happier lives. Here's to a future filled with understanding, resilience, and strength!