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Congenital Heart Defects

Meaning “present at birth”, congenital heart defects are heart conditions children are born with. This occurs when the heart or the blood vessels in proximity to the heart develop abnormally before birth.

There are many types of congenital heart defects:

  • Aortic stenosis
  • Atrial septal defect
  • Coarctation of the aorta
  • Common arterial trunk
  • Complete and partial atrioventricular septal defect
  • Double inlet ventricle
  • Hypoplastic left heart
  • Large ventricular septal defect
  • Patent ductus arteriosus
  • Pulmonary atresia with intact ventricular septum
  • Pulmonary atresia with ventricular septal defect
  • Pulmonary stenosis
  • Supraventricular tachycardia
  • Tetralogy of Fallot
  • Transposition of the great arteries
  • Tricuspid atresia

CausesIn most instances of congenital heart defects, something has gone wrong in the early development of the fetus.

While the cause isn’t fully understood, a number of factors could contribute, including:

  • faulty genetics
  • chromosomes
  • diabetes during pregnancy
  • a family history of congenital heart disease
  • taking certain medications during pregnancy (anticoagulants or antiepileptics)
  • viral infections such as measles
  • Down syndrome
  • drug or alcohol abuse during pregnancy

SymptomsCongenital heart defects can present as range of symptoms because every baby and condition is different. The most common signs and symptoms of congenital heart defects are:

  • A heart murmur
  • A bluish tint to skin, lips, and fingernails (commonly called "blue baby")
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Poor feeding, especially in infants because they tire easily while nursing
  • Poor weight gain in infants
  • Fatigue during exercise or activity (in older children)
  • Excessive sweating

Diagnosis Some congenital heart problems can now be picked up during the mother’s ultrasound scan at around 20 weeks, but sometimes these defects are not found until after the baby has been born – or later into childhood and even adulthood, when the body puts greater demands on the heart.

Tests may include:

  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Chest X-ray
  • Echocardiogram
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (Cardiac CT)

TreatmentThe treatments for congenital heart defects depend on the type of heart condition and its severity. For many babies, it is minor enough to not merit any treatment. In other cases, either medication or surgery is required.

Today, there are minimally-invasive techniques and procedures that can be used instead of surgery in some instances.