Congenital heart disease

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Overview

Congenital heart disease is one or more problems with the heart's structure that exist since birth. Congenital means that you're born with the condition. Congenital heart disease in adults and children can change the way blood flows through the heart.

There are many different types of congenital heart defects. This article focuses on congenital heart disease in adults.

Some types of congenital heart disease may be mild. But complex defects may cause life-threatening complications. However, advances in diagnosis and treatment continue to improve survival for those with congenital heart disease.

People with congenital heart disease need lifelong medical care. Treatment may include regular checkups (watchful waiting), medications or surgery. If you have adult congenital heart disease, ask your health care provider how often you need a checkup.

Symptoms

A congenital heart defect is often detected during a pregnancy ultrasound. If your doctor hears an abnormal heartbeat, for instance, they may further investigate the issue by performing certain tests. These may include an echocardiogram, a chest X-ray, or an MRI scan. If a diagnosis is made, your doctor will make sure the appropriate specialists are available during delivery.


In some cases, the symptoms of a congenital heart defect may not appear until shortly after birth. Newborns with heart defects may experience:


bluish lips, skin, fingers, and toes

breathlessness or trouble breathing

feeding difficulties

low birth weight

chest pain

delayed growth

In other cases, the symptoms of a congenital heart defect may not appear until many years after birth. Once symptoms do develop, they may include:


abnormal heart rhythms

dizziness

trouble breathing

fainting

swelling

fatigue


Causes

Congenital heart disease occurs as a result of an early developmental problem in the heart’s structure. The defect typically interferes with the normal flow of blood through the heart, which may affect breathing. Although researchers aren’t exactly sure why the heart fails to develop correctly, suspected causes include the following:


The heart defect may run in families.

Taking certain prescription drugs during pregnancy puts a child at a higher risk for a heart defect.

Using alcohol or illegal drugs during pregnancy can increase a child’s risk of having a heart defect.

Mothers who had a viral infection during the first trimester of pregnancy are more likely to give birth to a child with a heart defect.

Increased blood sugar levels, such as occurs with diabetes, may affect childhood development.


Risk factors

The Nation's Risk Factors and CDC's Response. Leading risk factors for heart disease and stroke are high blood pressure, high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and secondhand smoke exposure, obesity, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity.

Risk factors

Genetics. Congenital heart disease appears to run in families (inherited). ...

German measles (rubella). Having rubella during pregnancy may affect how the baby's heart develops while in the womb.

Diabetes. ...

Medications. ...

Alcohol. ...

Smoking.


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Complications

Heart failure, endocarditis, arrhythmias and pulmonary hypertension are the most common long term complications of adults with CHD. Adults with CHD benefit from tertiary expert care and early recognition of long-term complications and timely management are essential.

Children and adults with congenital heart disease are at an increased risk of developing further problems.

Developmental problems. ...

Respiratory tract infections. ...

Endocarditis. ...

Pulmonary hypertension. ...

Heart rhythm problems. ...

Sudden cardiac death. ...

Heart failure. ...

Blood clots.


Prevention

As so little is known about the causes of congenital heart disease, there's no guaranteed way of avoiding having a baby with the condition.


However, if you're pregnant, the following advice can help reduce the risk:


Ensure you are vaccinated against rubella and flu.

Avoid drinking alcohol or taking medication.

Take 400 micrograms of folic acid supplement a day during the first trimester (first 12 weeks) of your pregnancy – this lowers your risk of giving birth to a child with congenital heart disease, as well as several other types of birth defect.

Check with your GP or pharmacist before you take any medicine during pregnancy, including herbal remedies and medicine that's available over the counter.

Avoid contact with people who are known to have an infection.

If you have diabetes, make sure it's controlled.

Avoid exposure to organic solvents, such as those used in dry cleaning, paint thinners and nail polish remover.