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Congenital Heart Defects

Learning your child may have a heart defect can seem overwhelming. We understand your child and your family may be feeling a lot of emotions. Rest assured, the experts at Banner Children’s are here to provide the support and care your child’s needs to live a healthy life. Congenital heart defects can be frequently detected before birth or in early infancy. At Banner Children’s, we provide comprehensive fetal and childhood diagnosis and treatment to help you navigate this journey.

What Are Congenital Heart Defects?

Congenital heart defects are cardiac conditions present at birth. They can affect the heart’s structure and how blood pumps through the heart.

Congenital heart defects in children differ from heart defects or heart disease in adults, which are acquired through aging or lifestyle habits over time. Because of this, congenital heart defects require different diagnosis and treatment approaches.

Congenital Heart Defect Symptoms

Congenital heart defect symptoms in babies can be detected before birth or within the first few months after birth. During pregnancy, many congenital heart defects can be seen with a specialized ultrasound called a fetal echocardiogram.

After birth, infants may have symptoms including:

  • Trouble gaining weight
  • Trouble breathing
  • Blue skin, nails or lips

If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, call your doctor right away.

Causes of Congenital Heart Defects

The cause of most congenital heart defects in babies is unknown, but congenital heart defects may begin to develop during pregnancy as the baby is growing. While these defects cannot be prevented, our team offers early detection, diagnosis and management of fetal cardiac defects to allow for appropriate evaluation in a timely manner. At Banner Children’s, we make sure expectant mothers and families feel informed and supported.

Diagnosing Congenital Heart Defects

Early detection of fetal cardiac defects and rhythm disturbances is key because it allows our medical experts to provide you with timely care and treatment options for your newborn.

Diagnosing congenital heart defects in unborn babies can be done by using a special ultrasound called a fetal echocardiogram. This non-invasive test can show the structure of the baby's heart so your cardiologist can accurately diagnose your child’s condition and work with your OB to develop a customized delivery and post-delivery plan for you and your baby.

After birth, children with concerning symptoms can be tested with an echocardiogram (heart ultrasound) to look at the structure of the heart and how well it pumps.

Other testing options available for evaluating children's hearts include:

  • Echocardiogram: Echocardiograms, also known as echos, are the main method used to diagnose heart problems in children.  These procedures are safe and do not cause discomfort.
  • Electrocardiogram: Electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG or EKG, measures the electrical signals of the heart that control the heart beats. Electrodes (stickers) are placed on the chest and legs to read the electric signals. The test results are then displayed on a monitor or printer to show the heart rhythm.
  • Chest X-ray: Chest x-rays can help detect the size of the heart to determine if it is enlarged or if there are issues with the lungs that could affect breathing.
  • Stress test: A stress test can be used to understand how well a heart handles work above your resting state. This test can be used for some children as young as 6 years old to see if the heart is pumping more blood and functioning properly at different levels of work. During this test, your child will be hooked up to an ECG while walking or jogging at different paces on a treadmill.

Congenital Heart Defect Treatments

After your baby or child is diagnosed, a plan of care is made in collaboration with your pediatrician and pediatric cardiologist. If you are an expectant mother, you’ll meet members of the fetal heart team prior to your delivery to ensure the appropriate care is taken immediately after birth. Treatment options may include:

As your child grows, our continuum of care grows as well. From Banner Children’s to adult care throughout Banner Health, we’re here to care for families at every stage of life.