Congenital Heart Defect

A congenital heart defect is an abnormality with the heart’s structure and function and is present at birth.  It is the most common type of major birth defect, affecting 1 in every 100 babies born.

Congenital birth defects occur during fetal development, and may affect the walls of the heart, the valves of the heart, and the arteries and veins near the heart. Congenital heart defects may disrupt the normal flow of blood through the heart.


Symptoms of a congenital heart defect may not appear right away. Some signs may show up later in life, while others may never cause any problems at all.


Most defects are detected during a pregnancy ultrasound. If found, a pediatric heart doctor, surgeon, and other specialists should be there when the baby is delivered. Having the proper medical care at the delivery can mean the difference between life and death for some babies. Less severe defects often aren't diagnosed until children are older.

Minor defects often have no signs or symptoms and doctors may diagnose them based on results from a physical exam and tests done for another reason. Diagnostic tests include echocardiography, EKG, Chest X-ray, Pulse Oximetry (a test that estimates how much oxygen is in the blood), and cardiac catherization ( a procedure in which a catheter is put into a vein in the arm, groin (upper thigh), or neck and threaded to the heart so that doctor’s have a better view of the heart).


Treatment for a congenital heart defect depends on the severity and condition. Some congenital heart defects may require heart surgery, some can be treated with medication, and others may heal on their own.


Though genetics could play a role, women who are expecting should take precautions to reduce their child’s risk of developing congenital heart disease. Women who are expecting should:

  • Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs during pregnancy.
  • Tell your doctor that you are pregnant before taking any new medicines.
  • Have a blood test early in your pregnancy to see if you are immune to rubella. If you are not immune, avoid any possible exposure to rubella and get vaccinated right after delivery.
  • Pregnant women with diabetes should get good control over their blood sugar levels.

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