What exactly are congenital heart defects?

Congenital heart defects include a range of structural problems that can have minor or complex effects. For patients with congenital heart defects, early diagnosis and treatment can help to prevent complications, while long-term cardiac care may be needed in other cases. What exactly are these defects, and how are they treated? Here is what you need to know.

Congenital heart defects 101
Congenital heart defects are defects in the structure of the heart that are present at birth. About eight in 1,000 newborns have a congenital heart defect, and over 1 million adults in the US are living with this kind of heart defect.

There are many different kinds of congenital heart defects, including these common types:

  • Septum defect (hole in the heart)

  • Narrowed valves

  • Tetralogy of Fallot

  • Patent ductus arteriosus

Although heredity may play a role, the cause of many congenital heart defects is not known.

In some cases, congenital heart defects don’t cause any symptoms, particularly if they are mild. In other cases, these symptoms may occur:

  • Cyanosis—blue-tinged skin, fingernails, and lips

  • Rapid breathing

  • Fatigue with light physical activity

  • Swelling of the ankles, legs, and abdomen

In most cases, doctors diagnose severe heart defects soon after birth, because the symptoms are obvious. With a mild defect, a diagnosis may not be made until later in life.

Treatments for congenital heart defects depend on the type of defect. For simple defects that are not causing any symptoms, no treatment at all may be necessary, and instead, physicians may monitor the condition.

For complex congenital heart defects, there are a number of different treatments available, including surgery, catheter procedures, and medication. In some cases, multiple surgeries over the course of several years may be necessary. In very rare circumstances, babies born with multiple congenital defects may need a heart transplant.

The West Hills Regional Heart & Vascular Institute at West Hills Hospital & Medical Center offers nationally accredited cardiac care around the clock, while our world-class NICU provides the specialized care babies born with congenital defects may need. To get answers to your questions about our cardiac care services in West Hills, please call (818) 676-4321.

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