Congenital Heart Disease
The vast majority of congenital heart diseases have no known cause. Mothers will often wonder if something they did during the pregnancy caused the heart problem. In most cases, nothing can be attributed to the heart defect. Some heart problems do occur more often in families, so there may be a genetic link to some heart defects.
Risks of Congenital Heart Disease
Symptoms of Congenital Heart Disease
Congenital heart disease can be diagnosed at various stages in life such as before birth, right after birth, during childhood or even at adulthood. A defect may be present without any symptoms at all. Some symptoms of congenital heart disease include:
- shortness of breath
- dizziness or fainting
- abnormal heart rhythms
- fatigue (tiredness)
- poor circulation
- cyanosis (bluish tint to the skin, lips and fingernails)
Diagnosis of Congenital Heart Disease
Congenital heart disease can be detected when your doctor hears an abnormal heart sound or heart murmur while listening to your heart. Once they determine what type of murmur exists, they may order further testing to aid in the diagnosis of congenital heart disease such as:
- electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
- echocardiogram or transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE)
- chest x-ray
- cardiac catheterization
Congenital Heart Disease Treatment
Babies with congenital heart diseases 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 is now greater than the number of babies born with congenital heart disease. This is the result of the advances in diagnostic procedures and congenital heart disease 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 congenital heart disease who have reached adulthood transition to the appropriate type of cardiac care. The type of treatment required is based on the type of congenital heart disease a person has. Those persons with simple congenital heart disease 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 congenital heart disease.
For adults with congenital heart disease, 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 heart 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 congenital heart disease.
Learn more about congenital heart disease.