Information for Patients
Congenital Heart Defects
A congenital heart defect is a problem with the structure of the heart. It is present at birth. Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect. The defects can involve the walls of the heart, the valves of the heart, and the arteries and veins near the heart. They can disrupt the normal flow of blood through the heart. The blood flow can slow down, go in the wrong direction or to the wrong place, or be blocked completely.
Doctors use a physical exam and special heart tests to diagnose congenital heart defects. They often find severe defects during pregnancy or soon after birth. Signs and symptoms of severe defects in newborns include
- Rapid breathing
- Cyanosis - a bluish tint to the skin, lips, and fingernails
- Poor blood circulation
Many congenital heart defects cause few or no signs and symptoms. They are often not diagnosed until children are older.
Many children with congenital heart defects don't need treatment, but others do. Treatment can include medicines, catheter procedures, surgery, and heart transplants. The treatment depends on the type of the defect, how severe it is, and a child's age, size, and general health.
NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Heart Valve Diseases
Your heart has four valves. Normally, these valves open to let blood flow through or out of your heart, and then shut to keep it from flowing backward. But sometimes they don't work properly. If they don't, you could have
- Regurgitation - when blood leaks back through the valve in the wrong direction
- Mitral valve prolapse - when one of the valves, the mitral valve, has "floppy" flaps and doesn't close tightly. It's one of the most common heart valve conditions. Sometimes it causes regurgitation.
- Stenosis - when the valve doesn't open enough and blocks blood flow
Valve problems can be present at birth or caused by infections, heart attacks, or heart disease or damage. The main sign of heart valve disease is an unusual heartbeat sound called a heart murmur. Your doctor can hear a heart murmur with a stethoscope. But many people have heart murmurs without having a problem. Heart tests can show if you have a heart valve disease. Some valve problems are minor and do not need treatment. Others might require medicine, medical procedures, or surgery to repair or replace the valve.
NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Critical congenital heart disease Critical congenital heart disease (CCHD) is a term that refers to a group of serious heart defects that are present from birth. These abnormalities result from problems with the formation of one or more parts of the heart during the early stages of embryonic development. CCHD prevents the heart from pumping blood effectively or reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood. As a result, organs and tissues throughout the body do not receive enough oxygen, which can lead to organ damage and life-threatening complications. Individuals with CCHD usually require surgery soon after birth.Although babies with CCHD may appear healthy for the first few hours or days of life, signs and symptoms soon become apparent. These can include an abnormal heart sound during a heartbeat (heart murmur), rapid breathing (tachypnea), low blood pressure (hypotension), low levels of oxygen in the blood (hypoxemia), and a blue or purple tint to the skin caused by a shortage of oxygen (cyanosis). If untreated, CCHD can lead to shock, coma, and death. However, most people with CCHD now survive past infancy due to improvements in early detection, diagnosis, and treatment.Some people with treated CCHD have few related health problems later in life. However, long-term effects of CCHD can include delayed development and reduced stamina during exercise. Adults with these heart defects have an increased risk of abnormal heart rhythms, heart failure, sudden cardiac arrest, stroke, and premature death.Each of the heart defects associated with CCHD affects the flow of blood into, out of, or through the heart. Some of the heart defects involve structures within the heart itself, such as the two lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles) or the valves that control blood flow through the heart. Others affect the structure of the large blood vessels leading into and out of the heart (including the aorta and pulmonary artery). Still others involve a combination of these structural abnormalities.People with CCHD have one or more specific heart defects. The heart defects classified as CCHD include coarctation of the aorta, double-outlet right ventricle, D-transposition of the great arteries, Ebstein anomaly, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, interrupted aortic arch, pulmonary atresia with intact septum, single ventricle, total anomalous pulmonary venous connection, tetralogy of Fallot, tricuspid atresia, and truncus arteriosus.