What Is Congenital Heart Disease?

Congenital heart disease, or a congenital heart defect, is a heart abnormality present at birth. The problem can affect:

There are numerous types of congenital heart defects. They can range from simple conditions that don’t cause symptoms to complex problems that cause severe, life-threatening symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are currently 1 million adults and 1 million children in the United States living with congenital heart defects. Treatments and follow-up care for defects have improved drastically over the past few decades, so nearly all children with heart defects survive into adulthood. Some need continuous care for their heart defect throughout their lives. However, many go on to have active and productive lives despite their condition.

Types of Congenital Heart Disease

Though there are many different types of congenital heart defects, they can be divided into three main categories:

Cyanotic and Acyanotic Congenital Heart Disease

Many doctors classify congenital heart disease as either cyanotic congenital heart disease or acyanotic congenital heart disease. In both types, the heart isn’t pumping blood as efficiently as it should. The main difference is that cyanotic congenital heart disease causes low levels of oxygen in the blood, and acyanotic congenital heart disease doesn’t. Babies with reduced oxygen levels may experience breathlessness and a bluish tint to their skin. Babies who have enough oxygen in their blood don’t display these symptoms, but they may still develop complications later in life, such as high blood pressure.

What Are the Symptoms of Congenital Heart Disease?

A congenital heart defect is often detected during a pregnancy ultrasound. If your doctor hears an abnormal heartbeat, for instance, they may further investigate the issue by performing certain tests. These may include an echocardiogram, a chest X-ray, or an MRI scan. If a diagnosis is made, your doctor will make sure the appropriate specialists are available during delivery.

In some cases, the symptoms of a congenital heart defect may not appear until shortly after birth. Newborns with heart defects may experience:

What Causes Congenital Heart Disease?

Congenital heart disease occurs as a result of an early developmental problem in the heart’s structure. The defect typically interferes with the normal flow of blood through the heart, which may affect breathing. Although researchers aren’t exactly sure why the heart fails to develop correctly, suspected causes include the following: