The Heart Center- Mohamed Shalaby, MD, FACC

Congenital Heart Disease
Congenital Heart Defects
  • Congenital heart defects are problems with the heart's anatomy that are present at birth. These defects can involve the interior walls of the heart, the valves inside the heart, or the arteries and veins that carry blood into or out of the heart.
  • Congenital heart defects affect 8 out of every 1,000 newborns.
  • There are many types of congenital heart defects that range simple defects with no symptoms to severe and complex defects that can be life-threatening.
  • Although many congenital heart defects have few or no symptoms, some do. Severe defects can cause signs and symptoms such as rapid breathing, cyanosis (a bluish tint to skin, lips, and fingernails), fatigue, and poor blood circulation.
  • Congenital heart defects also may cause heart murmurs and delayed growth and development. Severe heart defects can lead to heart failure.
  • Severe heart defects generally are found during pregnancy or soon after birth. Less severe defects aren't diagnosed until children are older.
  • Echocardiography is an important test for both diagnosing a heart problem and following the problem over time.
  • Some congenital heart defects do not require treatment. Others may require treatment with catheter procedures or heart surgery. The recommended treatment depends on the type and severity of the child's heart defect. Other factors include the child's age, size, and general health.
  • With new advances in testing and treatment, most children who have congenital heart defects survive to adulthood and can lead healthy, productive lives. Some need special care throughout their lives to maintain a good quality of life.

What Causes Congenital Heart Defects?

If you have a child who has a congenital heart defect, you may think you did something wrong during your pregnancy to cause the problem. However, most of the time doctors don't know why congenital heart defects develop.

Heredity may play a role in some heart defects. For example, a parent who has a congenital heart defect may be more likely than other people to have a child with the condition. In rare cases, more than one child in a family is born with a heart defect.

Children who have genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, often have congenital heart defects. In fact, half of all babies who have Down syndrome have congenital heart defects.


Reference: The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

Last updated April 21, 2017