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Heart Disease Health Center

Congenital Heart Disease

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Congenital heart disease is a category of heart disease that includes abnormalities in cardiovascular structures that occur before birth.

These defects occur while the fetus is developing in the uterus and may affect approximately 1 in 100 children.

Congenital heart defects may produce symptoms at birth, during childhood, or not until adulthood.  Other congenital defects may cause no symptoms.

About 500,000 adults in the U.S. have congenital heart disease.

 

What Causes Congenital Heart Disease?

In the majority of people, the cause of congenital heart disease is unknown. However, there are some factors that are associated with an increased chance of having congenital heart disease. These risk factors include:

The risk of having a child with congenital heart disease may double if a parent or a sibling has a congenital heart defect.

 

What Types of Congenital Heart Problems Are There?

The most common congenital heart problems include:

  • Heart valve defects. These can result in a narrowing or stenosis of the valves, or a complete closure that impedes or obstructs forward blood flow. Other valve defects include leaky valves that don't close properly, thereby allowing blood to leak backwards.
  • Defects in the walls between the atria and ventricles of the heart (atrial and ventricular septal defects ). Holes or passageways between the heart’s different chambers may allow abnormal mixing of oxygenated and unoxygenated blood between the right and left sides of the heart.
  • Heart muscle abnormalities that can lead to heart failure .

 

What Are the Symptoms of Congenital Heart Disease in Adults?

Congenital heart disease may be diagnosed before birth, right after birth, during childhood, or not until adulthood. It is possible to have a defect and no symptoms at all. In adults, if symptoms are present, they may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Limited ability to exercise
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