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Congenital Heart Defects - Symptoms

Congenital heart defects cause a wide range of symptoms. Your baby may have only mild symptoms and tire easily, for example. He or she may have life-threatening symptoms, such as severe difficulty breathing. Or your baby may not have any symptoms that you notice at birth but may have them later as he or she grows.

Symptoms usually go away after the defect is corrected. A congenital heart defect that is repaired at the right time is less likely to permanently affect your child's growth and development.

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Common symptoms include:

  • Difficult or rapid breathing. You may notice trouble breathing when your baby is active, such as when he or she feeds or cries. Your baby may also breathe fast during rest or activities.
  • Poor weight gain. When most of a baby's energy is spent pumping blood to the body, little is left for eating and growing. Your baby may tire when eating and may take longer than expected to finish feeding.
  • Sweating, especially on the head. You may notice that your baby has damp hair and cool, moist skin.
  • Fatigue and fussiness. Your baby may be too tired to play and may sleep most of the time.
  • Sudden weight gain or puffiness and swelling of the skin, seen most often around the eyes and in the hands and feet. These symptoms may be most noticeable when your baby first wakes up. The weight gain or puffiness can be caused by fluid retention that is related to poor blood circulation.
  • Dehydration. Signs of dehydration include having dry mouth and eyes and having dark and strong-smelling urine.

Symptoms of blood flow problems

Blood flow problems caused by heart defects can mean that your baby gets less oxygen. This happens mostly in children who have cyanotic heart defects ("blue babies").

If a baby has trouble getting oxygen or the heart is working extra hard, symptoms include:

  • A bluish tint (cyanosis) to the skin, lips, and nail beds. This becomes worse when your baby cries or eats.
  • Slower-than-expected growth and development (with more severe congenital heart defects). Your baby may weigh less, be shorter, and take longer than expected to learn skills such as standing and walking.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: March 12, 2014
    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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