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Congenital heart defects, also referred to as congenital heart disease, heart defects, or congenital cardiovascular malformations, are problems with the heart's structure that are present at birth. These defects can involve:

  • The interior walls of the heart
  • The valves inside the heart
  • The arteries and veins that carry blood to the heart or the body

Congenital heart defects change the normal flow of blood through the heart.

There are many types of congenital heart defects. They range from simple defects with no symptoms to complex defects with severe, life-threatening symptoms. In the United States, more than one million adults are living with congenital heart defects.

​What Causes Congenital Heart Defects?

​Heredity may play a role in some heart defects. For example, a parent who has a congenital heart defect may be more likely than other people to have a child with the defect. Rarely, more than one child in a family is born with a heart defect.

Children who have genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, often have congenital heart defects. In fact, half of all babies who have Down syndrome have congenital heart defects.

Smoking​ during pregnancy also has been linked to several congenital heart defects, including septal defects.

Researchers continue to search for the causes of congenital heart defects.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Congenital Heart Defects?

Many congenital heart defects cause few or no signs and symptoms. A doctor may not even detect signs of a heart defect during a physical exam.

Some heart defects do cause signs and symptoms. They depend on the number, type, and severity of the defects. Severe defects can cause signs and symptoms, usually in newborns. These signs and symptoms may include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Cyanosis (a bluish tint to the skin, lips, and fingernails)
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Poor blood circulation

Congenital heart defects don't cause chest pain or other painful symptoms.

Heart defects can cause heart murmurs​ (extra or unusual sounds heart during a heartbeat). However, not all murmurs are signs of congenital heart defects. Many healthy children have heart murmurs.

Older children who have congenital heart defects may get tired easily or short of breath during physical activity.

Many types of congenital heart defects cause the heart to work harder than it should. With severe defects, this can lead to heart failure. Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Symptoms of heart failure include:

  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Fatigue with physical activity
  • A buildup of blood and fluid in the lungs
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen, and veins in the neck​

Congenital Heart Defect Diagnosis

Severe congenital heart defects generally are diagnosed during pregnancy or soon after birth. Less severe defects often aren't diagnosed until children are older.

Minor defects often have no signs or symptoms. Doctors may diagnose them based on results from a physical exam and tests done for another reason.

Specialists Involved

Pediatric cardiologists are doctors who specialize in the care of babies and children who have heart problems. Cardiac surgeons are specialists who repair heart defects using surgery.

Physical Exam

During a physical exam, the doctor will listen to your child's heart and lungs with a stethoscope. And, look for signs of a heart defect, such as cyanosis (a bluish tint to the skin, lips, or fingernails), shortness of breath, rapid breathing, delayed growth, or signs of heart failure.

Diagnostic tests may include:

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Why The Heart Hospital?

The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano offers a full range of procedures to address adult congenital heart defects. Sometimes people don't discover that they have a congenital heart defect until they reach adulthood. However, often patients have had a correctional procedure or otherwise received treatment for the congenital heart defect in their youth. Given the nature of many congenital heart problems, though, another procedure may be necessary to live out a full life.

The skilled specialists on our medical staff offer a number of procedures to effectively treat a wide range of congenital heart diseases:

  • Atrial septal defect (ASD)/patent foramen ovale (PFO) closure
  • Ventricular septal defect (VSD) closure
  • Pulmonary valve replacement
  • Isolated tricuspid repair
  • Anomalous pulmonary artery corrections
  • Ebstein's anomaly
  • Ross procedure
  • Balloon valvuloplasty
  • Alcohol septal ablation

A​​SD/PFO Experts

One of the most common ways to repair congenital heart defects is ASD/PFO procedures to address openings in the interatrial septum - the wall between the left and right atria of the heart.

The Heart Hospital Baylor uses a number of different ASD/PFO closure devices and techniques available - including minimally invasive interventions - depending on the size of the ASD/PFO opening, blood flow, and repair approach. Since 2010, about half of ASD/PFO procedures at our facility have been performed minimally invasively through heartport robotic surgery, or with percutaneous techniques.

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