Congenital heart disease is one or more problems with the heart’s structure that exist since birth. Congenital means that you’re born with the defect. Congenital heart disease, also called congenital heart defect, can change the way blood flows through your heart. Some congenital heart defects might not cause any problems. Complex defects, however, can cause life-threatening complications.
Some congenital heart defects cause no signs or symptoms. For some people, signs or symptoms occur later in life. And symptoms can return years after you’ve had treatment for a heart defect.
Common congenital heart disease symptoms include:
Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
A bluish tint to the skin, lips and fingernails (cyanosis)
Shortness of breath
Tiring quickly upon exertion
Swelling of body tissue or organs (edema)
Most Common Types of Congenital Heart Defects
ASD- Atrial Septal Defect. A birth defect that causes a hole in the wall between the heart’s upper chambers (atria).
VSD- Ventricular Septal Defect. A heart defect due to an abnormal connection between the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles).
Patent Foramen Ovale- patent foramen ovale (PFO) is a hole in the heart that didn’t close the way it should after birth. The small flaplike opening is between the right and left upper chambers of the heart (atria).
As a baby grows in the womb, the foramen ovale is present in between the right and left top chambers of the heart (atria). It normally closes during infancy. When the foramen ovale doesn’t close, it’s called a patent foramen ovale.
Patent Ductus Arteriosus– Before birth, an opening that connects two major blood vessels leading from the heart — the aorta and pulmonary artery — is necessary for a baby’s blood circulation. The connection diverts blood from a baby’s lungs while they develop, and the baby receives oxygen from the mother’s circulation. After birth, the ductus arteriosus normally closes within two or three days. In premature infants, the opening often takes longer to close. If the connection remains open, it’s referred to as a patent ductus arteriosus.
Teratology of Fallot- A condition caused by a combination of four heart defects that are present at birth. Tetralogy of Fallot defects cause oxygen-poor blood to flow out of the heart and into the rest of the body.
Ebstein Anomaly- The tricuspid valve — the valve between the upper right chamber (right atrium) and the lower right chamber (right ventricle) of the heart — isn’t formed properly
To understand congenital heart disease, we must know how the heart works.
The heart is divided into chambers — two upper chambers (atria) and two lower chambers (ventricles).
The right side of the heart moves blood to the lungs through blood vessels (pulmonary arteries).
In the lungs, blood picks up oxygen and then returns to the left side of your heart through the pulmonary veins.
The left side of the heart then pumps the blood through the aorta and out to the rest of the body.
Congenital heart disease can affect any of these heart structures, including the arteries, valves, chambers and the wall of tissue that separates the chambers (septum).
Certain environmental and genetic risk factors might play a role in the development of congenital heart disease, including:
Genetic Predisposition: Congenital heart disease appears to run in families (inherited) and is associated with many genetic syndromes. For instance, children with Down syndrome often have heart defects. Genetic testing can detect Down syndrome and other disorders during a baby’s development.
German measles (rubella): Having rubella during pregnancy may affect how the baby’s heart develops while in the womb.
Diabetes: Having type 1 or type 2 diabetes during pregnancy also may affect a baby’s heart development. Gestational diabetes generally doesn’t increase the risk of congenital heart disease.
Medications: Taking certain medications while pregnant can cause congenital heart disease and other birth defects. These drugs are called Teratogenic. Always tell your doctor about the medications you take during pregnancy.
Alcohol: Drinking alcohol while pregnant also contributes to the risk of heart defects in the baby. These are classified as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Smoking: A mother who smokes while pregnant increases her risk of having a child with a congenital heart defect.
Congenital heart disease complications that might develop years after you receive treatment include:
Irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias): Arrhythmias occur when the electrical signals that coordinate your heartbeat don’t work properly. Your heart may beat too fast, too slowly or irregularly. In some people, severe arrhythmias can cause stroke or sudden cardiac death if not treated. Scar tissue in your heart from previous surgeries can contribute to this complication.
Heart infection (endocarditis): Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of the heart (endocardium). It generally occurs when bacteria or other germs enter your bloodstream and move to your heart. Untreated, endocarditis can damage or destroy your heart valves or trigger a stroke. If you are at high risk of endocarditis, it’s recommended that you take antibiotics one hour before dental cleanings. Regular dental checkups are important. Healthy gums and teeth reduce the risk that bacteria will enter the bloodstream.
Stroke: A congenital heart defect can allow a blood clot to pass through your heart and travel to your brain, where it reduces or blocks blood supply.
Pulmonary hypertension: This is a type of high blood pressure that affects the arteries in your lungs. Some congenital heart defects send more blood to the lungs, causing pressure to build. This eventually causes your heart muscle to weaken and sometimes to fail.
Heart failure: Heart failure (congestive heart failure) means your heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs. Some types of congenital heart disease can lead to heart failure.