Sometimes heart problems develop over time due to lifestyle choices, or because of hereditary or environmental factors. Some heart problems are present at birth, however. Here is some information about congenital heart defects.
What is a congenital heart defect?
Congenital heart defects are heart structure abnormalities that a person is born with. These abnormalities occur during development before birth. They are the most common type of birth defect.
Congenital heart defects can affect the walls, valves, arteries, and veins of the heart.
These defects affect the heart’s ability to pump blood and deliver oxygen to the rest of the body, and may affect the flow of blood to the heart. Heart defects can slow blood flow, cause flow to change direction, send blood to the wrong place, or stop blood flow completely.
Consult the glossary for congenital heart defects from the American Heart Association for more information regarding specific defects.
Are congenital heart defects dangerous?
Sometimes congenital heart defects can be life-threatening. Serious defects are often detected before birth, or shortly after birth by a physician.
Congenital heart defects do not always cause symptoms, however, and some defects may not be detected until later in a child’s life.
If you notice your baby has a weak pulse, heart murmur, arrhythmia, difficulty breathing, or bluish color in the lips, tongue, or fingers, call your doctor immediately.
What causes congenital heart defects?
Research shows a connection between smoking during pregnancy and several congenital heart defects.
Some genetic disorders – such as Down syndrome – may cause heart defects, but the causes of congenital heart defects aren’t always known.
Living with congenital heart defects
Many children with heart defects do not need treatment, but some do. The treatment depends on the type and severity of the abnormality. A child’s size, age, and health also factor in to treatment options.
Children who are born with heart defects often grow up to live normal, healthy lives. Your child may need to have regular checkups with a cardiologist as well as a pediatrician.
If you’re an expectant mother, talk to your doctor with any questions or concerns you have during pregnancy.