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Congenital Heart Defects - Topic Overview

In most cases, congenital heart defects are found at birth or during a baby's first few months.

You may find that your baby has trouble eating or isn't gaining weight. Or your doctor may hear abnormal sounds or murmurs in your baby's heart during a routine checkup. The first sign may be a bluish tint to the baby's skin.

After a doctor suspects a heart defect, your baby will probably need several tests, such as blood tests, an echocardiogram, and possibly a heart catheterization. The doctor may use the echocardiogram to check blood flow through your baby's heart and to look at the valves, thickness, and shape of the heart. A heart catheterization measures blood pressure in the heart and heart arteries and can show how well the heart is pumping.

Having your child go through this testing can be very scary. Don't be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to ask to feel comfortable. Talk to your doctor and the nurses. And talk to the people who are doing the testing.

Some defects get better on their own and may not need treatment. Your baby's or child's treatment will depend on the type of defect.

Medicines may be used to help the heart work better. Medicines may also treat symptoms until the defect is repaired.

Some defects can be fixed by using a thin, flexible tube called a catheter. This procedure doesn't require opening up the chest. The doctor threads the catheter through a blood vessel—typically in the groin—and into the heart. There, he or she uses the catheter to close holes or open narrowed blood vessels or valves.

If a baby has a large or complex defect, the baby may need one or more open-heart surgeries. The surgery may be done right away, done over several steps, or delayed until the baby is stronger. Sometimes surgery is delayed if the baby is premature or until the baby is strong enough to handle the surgery. In some cases, the child may need different types of surgery over time as he or she grows.

In rare cases, a heart defect may be so serious that a heart transplant is needed.

Learning about congenital heart defects:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

Living with congenital heart defects:

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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