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Congenital Heart Defects

What Is a Congenital Heart Defect?

A congenital heart defect, sometimes called congenital heart disease, is an abnormality in the structure of your heart. It is present at birth and can affect the way blood flows through your heart. Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect, affecting nearly 1 percent of births in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are many different types of congenital heart defects that range from simple to complex. The most common congenital heart defect is a ventricular septal defect, a defect in which a hole is present in the wall that separates the lower chambers of the heart.

Severe congenital heart defects may lead to life-threatening conditions. Luckily, with more recent advancements in medical care and treatments, many people born with congenital heart defects are now living longer and leading happy, healthy lives.

What Are the Symptoms of a Congenital Heart Defect? 

When a baby is born, they may not show any signs or symptoms of a heart defect right away. Others may experience:

  • Blue lips or nails
  • Trouble breathing
  • Sleepiness or falling asleep while feeding

Often symptoms won’t present themselves until later in life – during childhood or even adulthood. Signs of congenital heart disease can include:

If you or your child are experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor right away.

What Are the Causes of or Risk Factors for Congenital Heart Defects?

Often the cause of a congenital heart defect is unknown. It may be caused by changes in genes or chromosomes. Environment and the mother’s health conditions can also play a part. 

Because congenital heart defects are developed in utero, expectant mothers or women planning on becoming pregnant should be aware of the following congenital heart disease risk factors:

  • Smoking or drinking alcohol during pregnancy
  • Having rubella (German measles) during pregnancy
  • Diabetes – excluding gestational diabetes
  • Medications - taking certain medications during pregnancy can cause defects. Be sure to consult your doctor before taking any medications
  • Heredity – congenital heart defects tend to run in families
  • Down syndrome – children with Down syndrome often have heart defects

How Are Congenital Heart Defects Diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects a congenital heart defect may be causing associated health problems, they may order one or more of the following tests:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Ultrasound
  • Chest X-ray
  • Stress test

Learn more about Banner Health’s testing and diagnostic services

What Is the Treatment for a Congenital Heart Defect?

Treatment options will depend on the type of heart defect you have. Your doctor will assess your condition and make recommendations based on your individual needs. Treatment options may include:

  • Medication
  • Implantable heart device, such as a pacemaker
  • Catheterization techniques
  • Surgery

If you do need to undergo treatment, Banner Health will be by your side to offer support every step of the way, including rehabilitation

How Can I Prevent Congenital Heart Defects? 

There is no way to prevent congenital heart defects in yourself. A healthy pregnancy is the best way a woman can help reduce the risk of having a baby with congenital heart defects. Women who are pregnant should:

  • Avoid cigarettes and alcohol
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Avoid certain medications

If you are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant and have any questions about congenital heart defects, talk with your doctor. The experts at Banner Health are here to help you with any of your concerns whether they’re related to heart care, pregnancy, or other medical needs.