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Congenital Heart Defects - Surgery

Surgery is done for more complex defects or when catheterization cannot correct the defect. Or your child might need a combination of surgery and catheterization to fix a defect. The kind of surgery will depend on what defect the child has.

Some congenital heart defects can be completely repaired with one surgery. Defects that are more complex often require several surgeries over time.

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Preparing for surgery

Prepare yourself for what to expect at the hospital. It may be shocking to see your newborn or child hooked up to so many machines and tubes.

If your child is older, you can help your child feel more comfortable and secure by preparing him or her for what to expect. Your child's doctor or the hospital staff can help you prepare your child. Encourage your child to ask questions. And let him or her talk to the doctors too.

For more tips, see Congenital Heart Defects: Caring for Your Child.

Surgery choices

In general, the types of surgery are:

  • Closing holes or blood vessels that have either formed or not closed. Usually, a patch or stitches are used.
  • Widening arteries.
  • Repairing or replacing valves that are too tight or that leak too much.
  • Returning the aorta or pulmonary arteries to the right position.
  • Repairing narrowed valves.

In rare cases, a heart transplant may be needed.

The type of surgery depends on the type of defect and the surgeon's preference.

What to think about

If a young baby (for example, newborn to age 3 months) has a life-threatening defect, surgery may be needed right away. For some defects, the best time for surgery is before the child is 2 years old. For other defects, the best time may be between the ages of 2 and 4.

In some cases, surgery may be done when a child is older. Surgery may be delayed if the defect is likely to heal on its own.

Some types of surgery are more invasive and take longer to recover from than others. Even after surgery, your child may still have symptoms such as weakness and a bluish tint (cyanosis) to the skin, lips, and nail beds.

After surgery, it's possible for symptoms to return or for complications to develop later. In these cases, more surgeries also may be needed.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 09, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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