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What is Congenital Heart Disease?

Congenital heart disease, or a congenital heart defect, is a heart abnormality present at birth. The problem can affect:

  • the heart walls
  • the heart valves
  • the blood vessels

There are numerous types of congenital heart defects. They can range from simple conditions that don’t cause symptoms to complex problems that cause severe, life-threatening symptoms.

Symptoms of Congenital Heart Disease

Some congenital heart defects cause no signs or symptoms. For some people, signs or symptoms occur later in life. And symptoms can return years after you’ve had treatment for a heart defect.

Common congenital heart disease symptoms in adults include:

  • Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
  • A bluish tint to the skin, lips, and fingernails (cyanosis)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tiring quickly upon exertion
  • Swelling of body tissue or organs (edema)

Types of Congenital Heart Disease

Though there are many different types of congenital heart defects, they can be divided into three main categories:

  • In heart valve defects, the valves inside the heart that direct blood flow may close up or leak. This interferes with the heart’s ability to pump blood correctly.
  • In heart wall defects, the natural walls that exist between the left and right sides and the upper and lower chambers of the heart may not develop correctly, causing blood to back up into the heart or to build up in places where it doesn’t belong. The defect puts pressure on the heart to work harder, which may result in high blood pressure.
  • In blood vessel defects, the arteries and veins that carry blood to the heart and back out to the body may not function correctly. This can reduce or block blood flow, leading to various health complications.

 When to see a doctor

If you’re having worrisome symptoms, such as chest pain or shortness of breath, seek emergency medical attention.

If you have signs or symptoms of congenital heart disease or were treated for a congenital heart defect as a child, make an appointment to see your doctor.

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