Congenital Heart Disease: Symptoms & Treatment

What is congenital heart disease?

Congenital heart disease (CHD) is an issue with your heart’s structure that’s present at birth. These issues — which keep blood from flowing normally — may include:

  • A hole in your heart wall.
  • Issues with your blood vessels (too many or too few, blood flowing too slowly, to the wrong place or in the wrong direction).
  • Problems with your heart valves that control blood flow.

Some cases of CHD are simple and may not cause any symptoms. But others can be life-threatening and require treatment in infancy.

Healthcare providers can detect heart defects early (before or shortly after birth). But sometimes, people don’t get a CHD diagnosis until childhood, adolescence or adulthood.

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What are the types of congenital heart disease?

There are two main groups of CHD:

  • Cyanotic (low oxygen in the blood) congenital heart disease.
  • Acyanotic (blood oxygen level is acceptable) congenital heart disease.

Cyanotic congenital heart disease

These heart anomalies reduce the amount of oxygen your heart can deliver to the rest of your body. Babies born with cyanotic congenital heart disease usually have low levels of oxygen and need surgery. Examples include:

  • Left heart obstructive lesions: These reduce blood flow between the heart and the rest of your body (systemic blood flow). Examples include hypoplastic left heart syndrome (when your heart is too small on the left side) and interrupted aortic arch (aorta is incomplete).
  • Right heart obstructive lesions: These reduce blood flow between your heart and lungs (pulmonary blood flow). Examples include tetralogy of Fallot (a group of four anomalies), Ebstein’s anomaly, pulmonary atresia and tricuspid atresia (valves don’t develop correctly).
  • Mixing lesions: The body mixes systemic and pulmonary blood flow. One example is transposition of the great arteries, which means the two main arteries leaving your heart are in the wrong place. Another is truncus arteriosus, when your heart has only one main artery, instead of two, to carry blood to your body.

Acyanotic congenital heart disease

This involves an issue that makes blood pump through your body in an abnormal way. For example:

  • Hole in the heart: One of your heart’s walls can have an abnormal opening. Depending on the location of the hole, this may be called atrial septal defect, atrioventricular canal, patent ductus arteriosus or ventricular septal defect.
  • Problem with the aorta: The aorta is the main artery that carries blood away from your heart to the rest of your body. It can be too narrow (aortic coarctation). Or the aortic valve (which opens and closes to regulate blood flow) may be restricted in opening or have only two flaps instead of three (called bicuspid aortic valve).
  • Problem with the pulmonary artery: The pulmonary artery carries blood from the right side of your heart to your lungs to get oxygen. If this artery is too narrow, it’s called pulmonary artery stenosis.

How common is congenital heart disease?

Congenital heart disease is the most common type of congenital condition. CHDs affect 1% of U.S. births.


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