Congenital Heart Defects

What are congenital heart defects?

Congenital heart defects occur when parts of the heart do not form properly before birth, causing a structural problem that changes the normal flow of blood through the heart. Congenital heart defects can involve the interior walls of the heart, the heart valves, or the arteries and veins that carry blood to the heart and throughout the body.

Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect, affecting eight out of every 1,000 newborns. More than one million adults in the U.S. are living with congenital heart defects.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Many congenital heart defects cause few or no symptoms, and may not be detectable in a physical exam. Some do cause symptoms, however, depending on the type and severity of the defects. Common symptoms include rapid breathing, cyanosis (a bluish tint to the lips, skin and fingernails) and fatigue.

Methods of treatment

There are many types of congenital heart defects. Some are simple and need no treatment or are easily fixed. Others are more complex, requiring special medical care soon after birth. Whether a child needs treatment, or the type of treatment performed, depends on many factors, including the type and severity of the heart defect, and the child’s age, size and general health. Doctors often use a combination of catheter-based and surgical procedures to repair congenital heart defects, and children may also need to take medication.

Overall, the outlook for children with congenital heart defects is much better today than in the past. Advances in testing and treatment allow most children to live active, productive lives.