Congenital Heart Defects - Topic Overview
What are congenital heart defects?
heart defects are problems with how a baby's heart forms. "Congenital" means
that the heart problem develops before the baby is born or at birth.
congenital heart defects affect how blood flows
heart or through the blood vessels near the heart.
Some defects may cause blood to flow in a pattern that isn't normal. Others
can completely or partially block blood flow.
There are many
different types of congenital heart defects. They can be fairly simple, such as
a hole between the chambers of the heart or a heart valve that has not formed
right. Others are more serious and complex, such as a missing heart valve or
Some defects are discovered in the fetus (developing baby)
while a woman is pregnant. Others are not found until birth. Still others may
not be discovered until your child gets older or even until he or she is
No matter when a heart defect is discovered, having a
child with a heart problem is very stressful. Dealing with the fear and
uncertainty may seem overwhelming, especially when you have a fragile newborn.
It may help you to learn as much as you can about your child's treatment and to
talk to your doctor and other parents who have a child with similar
What causes the defects?
No one knows exactly what
causes most congenital heart defects. Genes passed down from a parent are a
possible cause. Viral infections also may play a role. For example, if a woman
gets German measles (rubella) while she is pregnant, it may cause problems with
how her baby's heart develops. Women who have
diabetes have a greater chance of having a child with
a congenital heart defect.
Congenital heart defects are more
common in babies who are born with genetic conditions such as
Taking some prescription
or other medicines during pregnancy may cause congenital heart defects. Women
who use illegal "street" drugs or who drink alcohol during pregnancy have a
higher risk of having a baby with a congenital heart defect.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of congenital
heart defects will depend on what problem your baby has. Babies with congenital
heart defects may have one or more of these symptoms:
- Tiring quickly
- Difficulty breathing
- Sweating easily
- Fewer wet diapers
- Not gaining weight as they should
- A bluish tint to the skin, lips, and fingernails that
becomes worse while eating or crying
- Fainting or near-fainting spells, especially related to
In some cases, your child's congenital heart defect may
be so mild that symptoms won't appear until the child is a teenager or young
How are congenital heart defects diagnosed?