Congenital heart disease (also called congenital heart defect) refers to an abnormality in the structure of the heart that occurs while the fetus is developing in the uterus. The word “congenital” means the defect exists at birth. The most common type of birth defect, congenital heart defect may affect approximately one in 100 children. Symptoms may appear at birth, during childhood, or not until adulthood.

Physicians affiliated with the Children’s Heart Institute at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital provide care for infants and children with congenital heart disease.

Common Types of Congenital Heart Disease

We provide comprehensive care for all structural heart conditions. The most common congenital heart conditions are:

  • Heart valve defects
  • Defects in the walls between the atria and ventricles of the heart (atrial and ventricular septal defects)
  • Heart muscle abnormalities

Causes of Congenital Heart Disease

In the majority of people with congenital heart disease, the cause is unknown. There are some risk factors associated with an increased chance of having congenital heart disease:

  • Genetic or chromosomal abnormalities in the child, such as Down syndrome
  • Taking certain medications, alcohol or drug abuse, or smoking during pregnancy
  • A maternal viral infection, such as rubella (German measles) in the first trimester of pregnancy
  • If a parent or sibling has a congenital heart defect, the risk of having congenital heart disease may double
  • It is rare for more than one child in a family to be born with a congenital heart defect

Symptoms of Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart defects may be diagnosed before birth, right after birth, during childhood or not until adulthood. It is possible to have a defect and no symptoms. Symptoms in adults may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Poor tolerance for exercise

Diagnosis of Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart disease is often first diagnosed when a doctor hears an abnormal heart sound or heart murmur (link) when listening to the heart during a physical exam.

Diagnostic tests may include:

Treatment for Congenital Heart Disease

Some mild heart defects do not require any treatment. Treatments, either medical, or surgical or noninvasive procedures include:

To prevent endocarditis (an infection of the heart), most adults with congenital heart disease should have a heart specialist monitor their condition throughout their lifetime.

Find a Specialist

Don't have a cardiologist? Find a heart specialist affiliated with Memorial Hermann or schedule an appointment with a cardiologist online 24/7 with ScheduleNow.

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