A congenital heart defect (CHD) is a heart problem, present at birth, that results when the heart or blood vessels near the heart don’t develop normally before birth. CHDs are the most common type of birth defect, occurring in about one of every 100 births.

Symptoms of congenital heart defects

Although minor heart defects rarely cause symptoms, a baby born with a severe heart defect might exhibit one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Blue skin
  • Very low blood pressure
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Feeding problems
  • Poor weight gain
  • Heart murmur (unusual sound heart between heartbeats)

Causes of congenital heart defects

In most cases, when a baby is born with a CHD, there is no known reason for it. It is believed that CHDs are likely due to a combination of multiple genetic and environmental factors, such as a mother’s exposure to infection or a drug during pregnancy.

Diagnosing congenital heart defects

A severe CHD is often diagnosed in infancy or even before birth. Less severe defects are often diagnosed during a routine medical check-up.

If a CHD is suspected, your physician will take a medical history, perform a physical exam and may also order one or more of the following diagnostic tests:

Treatments for congenital heart defects

Treatments vary by specific condition and range from observation and medications to open heart surgery.

Types of congenital heart defects

CHDs are heart structure problems that cause either too much or too little blood to pass through the lungs, or too little blood to travel to the body. Among the more common CHDs are:

  • Ventricular septal defect (VSD) – a hole in the septum separating the two lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles). Through the hole, oxygen-rich blood is allowed to mix with oxygen-poor blood, causing higher pressure in the heart or reduced oxygen to the body. While some holes close on their own or are too small to require surgery, others must be surgically sewn closed, patched or plugged. It is the most common type of heart defect.
  • Atrial septal defect (ASD) – a hole in the wall (septum) separating the upper chambers of the heart (the atria). If the hole is not repaired, blood can pass between the two chambers, causing lung problems. Some holes are so small they may not cause symptoms or problems. However, an ASD that causes stress to the heart and lungs must be sealed, either through open heart surgery or cardiac catheterization, depending on the type and size of the ASD.
  • Patent foramen ovale (PFO) - a small flap-like opening in the wall of the heart—present in every human fetus—that failed to properly close at birth and to seal shortly thereafter. (Patent means open.) A PFO is quite common, affecting about 25 percent of the normal population, and often goes undetected. While most people never need treatment for this condition, in certain cases, closure via open heart surgery or the implantation of a closure device via cardiac catheterization might be required.
  • Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) – a condition in which a small passageway (called the ductus arteriosus) between the pulmonary artery and aorta in an unborn baby fails to close after birth. When the ductus arteriosus stays open—a condition called patent ductus arteriosus—blood travels in the wrong direction between the aorta and the pulmonary artery, causing too much blood to flow through the lungs. Treatments include observation, fluid restriction, medication or surgery.

Congenital heart defect specialists

The experienced heart specialists at Houston Heart are experts and diagnosing and treating CHDs.

To learn more, schedule an appointment.