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Congenital Heart Defects

The HeartHeart defects are among the most common birth defects (Read about "Birth Defects") in the United States, according to the March of Dimes (MOD), affecting nearly one in every hundred births. Congenital (meaning present at birth) heart defects can affect any part of the heart. They can range from problems that pose no health risks to problems that are life threatening. Sometimes congenital heart defects produce early symptoms, such as gray or bluish skin tone. Sometimes symptoms are delayed for years. And sometimes congenital heart defects produce no symptoms at all.

One thing congenital heart defects have in common is that in most cases, we don't exactly know why they develop. Potential risk factors include genetics (Read about "Genetics"), medications taken during pregnancy, and viruses affecting the mother during pregnancy. (Read about "Healthy Pregnancy") Women with chronic conditions such as diabetes are also at higher risk, and need to monitor their condition closely during pregnancy. (Read about "Diabetes") Children with other issues, such as Down syndrome, are also at increased risk. (Read about "Down Syndrome")

Some of the more common congenital birth defects, according to MOD and the American Heart Association (AHA) include:

Other, less common, types of congenital heart defects include:

Not all congenital heart defects require treatment. But some are serious and do need to be treated. The specific treatment depends on the type of defect. Potential options include:

MOD says that half the children who require surgical repair of a heart defect commonly undergo surgery before the age of two. MOD says early surgery can help the baby avoid additional complications and get back to normal sooner. Some conditions, however, require a temporary repair, with more major surgical correction delayed until the child is older. For some patients, minimally-invasive robotic-assisted surgery is an option. (Read about "Robotic Surgery")

It's important for parents to be aware of the fact that treatment for certain congenital heart defects puts the child at greater risk for getting an infection of the valves called endocarditis. (Read about endocarditis in "The Heart and Its Valves") Parents should discuss with their doctor whether their child needs to take antibiotics (Read about "Antibiotics") before certain dental and surgical procedures.

Some congenital heart defects can be identified before birth by ultrasound. (Read about "Ultrasound Imaging") Since the exact cause of such birth defects is unknown, there is no known way to prevent them. MOD says, however, that a woman can reduce the risk by:

Research continues to learn more about congenital heart defects and how to treat them. Meanwhile, the International Society for Adult Congenital Cardiac Disease (ISACCD) says those diagnosed with a congenital heart defect need to be aware of their continuing risks as they age. Depending on their specific defect, they may be at greater risk for additional disorders including arrhythmia, congestive heart failure, pulmonary hypertension or endocarditis. (Read about "Arrhythmia" "Congestive Heart Failure" "Pulmonary Hypertension" and find endocarditis in "The Heart and Its Valves") They may need additional surgery later on. Women will need to discuss the risks of pregnancy with their doctors. ISACCD also says parents with congenital heart defects are more likely to have affected children than are parents with normal hearts. Again, you should discuss all concerns with your doctor.

Related Information:

    The Heart & Cardiovascular System

    Heart Terms Glossary

All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.

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By printing and/or reading this article, you agree that you accept all terms and conditions of use, as specified online.