Heart Disease Common Congenital

Congenital heart disease describes any disorder caused by a heart defect present at birth. The most common types of birth defects affect the heart, and congenital heart disease is responsible for more deaths than any other form of birth defect during the first year of life, as reported by the Nemours Foundation (2010).

Types of Congenital Heart Disease

Two general types of congenital heart diseases and congenital heart defects can be differentiated at birth: non-cyanotic and cyanotic heart disease. Cyanotic heart disease is associated with blue skin coloration at birth due to a lack of oxygen being delivered to the tissues.

The most common defects of the heart present as holes, incorrectly positioned blood vessels or heart valve abnormalities, in which the valves don’t open or close properly. These problems sometimes occur in combination.

Some forms of congenital heart defect don’t require treatment and resolve on their own. For example, a small hole between heart chambers may close over time without intervention. Other defects may require more complex treatment, involving medication or surgery.

Causes of Heart Defects

The fetal heart begins beating about 22 days after conception. It is after about 28 days, when the tubes and chambers begin to resemble a fully developed heart, that most heart defects seem to occur. The causes are often unknown, but genetics and medications may play a role. Health conditions like diabetes and German measles (rubella) may also increase the risk of some forms of congenital heart disease.

Symptoms of Congenital Heart Disease

The most serious forms of congenital heart defect usually become apparent early in life. Early symptoms may include swelling of the legs, abdomen or eye area, or shortness of breath during feedings. Cyanotic heart disease is usually evident in blue or pale gray skin coloration.

Somewhat less serious diseases may appear later in childhood with symptoms such as shortness of breath during activity, fluid build-up in the chest or swelling of the feet and legs.

Treatment for Congenital Heart Disease

If a congenital heart defect is recognized early enough, it can sometimes be treated with surgery immediately or soon after birth. Even when simple and treated early, however, some forms of congenital heart disease require lifelong follow up. These may affect growth and development and the risk of coronary heart disease or congestive heart failure may always be present, even through adulthood.

More complex forms of both non-cyanotic and cyanotic heart disease may require individual care plans, including medications, various form of therapy or surgery.

The prognosis for congenital heart disease can be very positive, and some individuals born with a congenital heart defect live full lives free of complications and never experience either coronary heart disease or a restrictive lifestyle. On the other hand, some congenital heart defects and congenital heart disease conditions can be life-threatening.

If you experience heart disease symptoms or observe them in your child and you suspect a congenital heart defect, discuss your concerns with a doctor.


Mayo Clinic. (2010). Congenital heart defects in children basics. Retrieved October 28, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/congenital-heart-defects/DS01117

Medline Plus. (2010). Congenital heart disease. Retrieved October 28, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001114.htm

National Heart Lung and Blood institute. (2009). Congenital heart defects. Retrieved October 28, 2010, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/chd/chd_what.html

Nemours Foundation. (2010). Birth Defects. Retrieved November 4, 2010, form http://kidshealth.org/parent/system/ill/birth_defects.html#