Congenital heart disease is a heart problem that a child is born with. It means that the heart did not develop normally as the baby was developing.
The heart has 4 sections, or chambers. There are two upper chambers each called atria, and the two lower chambers are called ventricles. The heart muscle squeezes to push blood through these 4 chambers, to the lungs, and to the rest of the body. Blood flows from the right atrium into the right ventricle, and the right ventricle pumps it to the lungs. As it passes through the lungs, the blood picks up oxygen and leaves behind carbon dioxide. Then the blood flows back to the heart and into the left atrium, and from there into the left ventricle. The left ventricle pumps the blood out to the rest of the body, with a small amount going to the heart muscle itself. The heart pushes blood out through the arteries and blood returns to the heart through the veins.
The heart has 4 valves, one between each chamber, one between the right lower chamber and the lungs, and one between the left lower chamber and the rest of the body. The valves open and close with each heartbeat to keep the blood flowing in one direction.
An electrical signal in the heart starts each heartbeat, causing the heart muscle to squeeze (pump). Normally, this signal starts in the right atrium. The signal then follows normal pathways to the upper left atrium and to the ventricles.
Congenital heart disease can affect the chambers, the valves, the blood vessels, or the electrical pathways. The heart rhythm may be abnormal or the blood flow may be blocked or going to the wrong place.
Mild congenital heart problems may not be noticed until adulthood. Some heart problems can put a strain on the heart muscle and cause symptoms soon after birth.
Most of the time the cause of congenital heart disease is not known.
Some conditions that increase the risk of being born with a heart problem include:
Some medicines or drugs taken by the mother during pregnancy or even a month or 2 before pregnancy may increase the risk that a baby will be born with a heart defect.
If the defect is mild, there may be no symptoms. Many defects cause a whooshing sound, called a murmur, as blood moves through the heart. Healthcare providers may hear the murmur with a stethoscope.
Symptoms of a heart defect in a baby or child may include:
As symptoms get worse, a baby may have cold, pale, or blotchy skin. The baby may stop urinating and have a very weak pulse. Babies can die if they are not treated.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your child's symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Often, your healthcare provider will find a problem before birth by using ultrasound. Ultrasound uses sound waves to see how a baby is growing during pregnancy.
Tests may include:
The defect may be small and not need treatment. Sometimes it will get better without treatment. If the congenital heart defect is serious, it will need repair. Depending on the type of defect, the repair may be done during:
Follow your child’s healthcare provider's instructions. Ask your child’s healthcare provider:
Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.