Congenital Heart Defects - What Happens
Congenital heart defects happen when the heart doesn't form normally as the developing baby (fetus) grows in the uterus. Heart defects may
cause problems with
blood flow through the heart after a baby is born. The problems can affect the
baby's blood and oxygen supply.
There are many types of congenital heart defects. If the defect lowers the amount of oxygen in the body, it is called cyanotic. If the defect doesn't affect oxygen in the body, it is called acyanotic. Some defects require treatment right away. Other defects get better on their own
and don't require treatment.
Congenital heart defects happen in about 8 out of
1,000 babies born in the United States.1 But only about
one-third of these babies have major defects
that need surgery or have defects that may cause death during the first year of
life.1 The number of congenital heart defects among
premature babies is higher—about 2 out of 100 births.2
Congenital heart defects affect a similar number of boys and girls.
But the types of defects that are common in boys and girls tend to differ.2
Not all defects are found when a child is very young. Some defects don't cause symptoms and aren't life-threatening. These defects may not
be found until the teen years or later.
Although many children and adults
with corrected heart defects lead normal lives, heart defects can be related to
or cause long-term risks that may include:
- Developmental delays or disabilities or
- Certain physical
traits, such as smaller-than-average adult height and weight,
clubbing, or cyanosis (bluish tint to the skin from
low blood-oxygen levels). These can present challenges to a person's
self-esteem and confidence.
- A shorter life span than average, if
the defect is severe or if heart failure or
other complications happen.
If you are an adult with a congenital heart defect, see the topic Congenital Heart Defects in Adults.
have to make decisions about: