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Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital heart defects facts

  • Congenital heart defects are problems with the heart's structure that are present at birth. Congenital heart defects change the normal flow of blood through the heart.
  • Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect, affecting 8 out of every 1,000 newborns. Each year, more than 35,000 babies in the United States are born with congenital heart defects.
  • There are many types of congenital heart defects ranging from simple to very complex.
  • Doctors don't know what causes most congenital heart defects. Heredity may play a role.
  • Although many heart defects have few or no symptoms, some do. Severe defects can cause symptoms such as:
    • Rapid breathing.
    • A bluish tint to skin, lips, and fingernails. This is called cyanosis.
    • Fatigue (tiredness).
    • Poor blood circulation.
  • Serious heart defects are usually diagnosed while a baby is still in the womb or soon after birth. Some defects aren't diagnosed until later in childhood, or even in adulthood.
  • An echocardiogram is an important test for both diagnosing a heart problem and following the problem over time. This test helps diagnose problems with how the heart is formed and how well it's working. Other tests include EKG (electrocardiogram), chest x ray, pulse oximetry, and cardiac catheterization.
  • Doctors treat congenital heart defects with catheter procedures and surgery.
  • Treatment depends on the type and severity of the defect.
  • With new advances in testing and treatment, most children with congenital heart defects grow into adulthood and can live healthy, productive lives. Some need special care all though their lives to maintain a good quality of life.


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