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Congenital Heart Defects - Topic Overview

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
  • Puffiness or swelling
  • Sweating easily
  • 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 physical activity
  • Having dark, strong-smelling urine or other signs of dehydration

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 adult.

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.

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