Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital Heart Defects

What is a congenital heart defect?

When the heart or blood vessels near the heart do not develop normally before birth, a condition called congenital heart defect occurs (congenital means "inborn" or "existing at birth").

Congenital heart defects occur in about eight of every 1,000 infants. More than 1,000,000 adults in the U.S. have congenital heart disease. Many young people with congenital heart defects are living into adulthood now.

In most cases, the cause is unknown. Sometimes a viral infection or hereditary causes the condition. Some congenital heart defects are the result of too much alcohol or drug use during pregnancy.

Most heart defects either cause an abnormal blood flow through the heart, or obstruct blood flow in the heart or vessels (obstructions are called stenoses and can occur in heart valves, arteries, or veins).

Rarely, defects include those in which:

Types of congenital heart defects

There are many disorders of the heart that require clinical care by a doctor or other health care professional. Listed below are some of the conditions, for which we have provided a brief overview.

Obstructive defects:

Septal defects

Some congenital heart defects allow blood to flow between the right and left chambers of the heart because an infant is born with an opening in the septal wall that separates the right and left sides of the heart.

Cyanotic defects

Cyanotic defects are defects in which blood pumped to the body contains less-than-normal amounts of oxygen, resulting in a condition called cyanosis. It causes a blue discoloration of the skin. Infants with cyanosis are often called "blue babies."

Other defects:

Who treats congenital heart defects?

Babies with congenital heart problems are followed by specialists called pediatric cardiologists. These physicians diagnose heart defects and help manage the health of children before and after surgical repair of the heart problem. Specialists who correct heart problems in the operating room are known as pediatric cardiovascular or cardiothoracic surgeons.

A new subspecialty within cardiology is emerging as the number of adults with congenital heart disease (CHD) is now greater than the number of babies born with CHD, as a result of the advances in diagnostic procedures and treatment interventions that have been made since 1945.

In order to achieve and maintain the highest possible level of wellness, it is imperative that those individuals born with CHD who have reached adulthood transition to the appropriate type of cardiac care. The type of care required is based on the type of CHD a person has. Those persons with simple CHD can generally be cared for by a community adult cardiologist. Those with more complex types of CHD will need to be cared for at a center that specializes in adult CHD.

For adults with CHD, guidance is necessary for planning key life issues such as college, career, employment, insurance, activity, lifestyle, inheritance, family planning, pregnancy, chronic care, disability, and end of life. Knowledge about specific congenital heard conditions and expectations for long-term outcomes and potential complications, and risks must be reviewed as part of the successful transition from pediatric care to adult care. Parents should help pass on the responsibility for this knowledge and accountability for ongoing care to their young adult children to help ensure the transition to adult specialty care and optimize the health status of the young adult with CHD.

Click here to view the
Online Resources of Cardiovascular Disease


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