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Congenital Heart Disease

What is congenital heart disease? 

Congenital heart disease is an abnormality in the heart before one is born. Individuals with congenital heart disease need to be cared for by doctors that specialize in treating their condition. Beaumont's heart and vascular specialists provide leading-edge treatment options and comprehensive care for most complex heart conditions.

Congenital heart disease or defects can affect a valve, a chamber, the septum, an artery or blood flow. To understand heart defects, it’s helpful to understand how a normal, healthy heart works. The heart is made up of four chambers – the atria (two upper chambers) and the ventricles (two lower chambers). The chambers are separated by tissue called the septum. Blood pumps to and from the heart with the help of blood vessels, including the arteries and veins. The blood moves from one chamber to another with the help of valves. The four heart valves open and close, keeping the blood moving in one direction.

What are the most common congenital heart problems? 

  • heart valve defects
    • narrowing or stenosis of the valves, a complete closure or leaky valves that don't close properly
    • bicuspid aortic valve, which is characterized by two leaflets instead of the normal three leaflets in the aortic valve
  • atrial or ventricular septal defects or patent foramen ovale, defects or holes in the walls between the atria and ventricles of the heart
  • hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, heart muscle abnormalities that can lead to heart failure

Risks of Congenital Heart Disease

Most of congenital heart diseases have no known cause. Some heart problems do occur more often in families, so there may be a genetic link to some heart defects.

Some common risk factors include:

  • heredity
  • diabetes
  • medications
  • Rheumatic fever
  • Rubella

Symptoms of Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart disease can be diagnosed at various stages in life such as before birth, right after birth, during childhood or even at adulthood. A defect may be present without any symptoms at all. Some symptoms of congenital heart disease include:

  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness or fainting
  • abnormal heart rhythms
  • fatigue (tiredness)
  • poor circulation
  • cyanosis (bluish tint to the skin, lips and fingernails)

Diagnosis of Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart disease can be detected when your doctor hears an abnormal heart sound or heart murmur while listening to your heart. Once they determine what type of murmur exists, they may order further testing to aid in the diagnosis of congenital heart disease such as:

  • electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  • echocardiogram or transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE)
  • chest x-ray
  • cardiac catheterization

Congenital Heart Disease Treatment

The number of adults with congenital heart disease now exceeds the number of pediatric patients. Treatment is based on the type of congenital heart disease diagnosed. Talk to your doctor to determine the best treatment plan.

Adults who have been diagnosed with congenital heart disease may have to understand the affects it may have on key life issues such as college, career, employment, insurance, activity, lifestyle, inheritance, family planning and pregnancy.