What is Congenital Heart Disease

A congenital heart defect (CHD), is a defect in the structure of the heart and great vessels which is mostly present at birth. Many types of heart defects exist, most of which either obstruct blood flow in the heart or vessels near it, or cause blood to flow through the heart in an abnormal pattern.

These defects can therefore 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.

Other defects, affect the heart’s rhythm. Heart defects are among the most common birth defects and are the leading cause of birth defect-related deaths. (Approximately 8 people in 1000 are born with a congenital heart defect).  Many defects don’t need treatment, but some complex congenital heart defects require medication or surgery.

We do not know why some children are born with heart defects. The disease is not hereditary, though it does occur slightly more frequently in some families than in others. About 20% of children with congenital heart defects also suffer from another congenital disease. For example, about one third of children with congenital heart defects suffer from Down’s Syndrome. Numerous other factors (viral infections, medication, chemicals etc.) may also affect the development of the heart if they occur at critical stages of pregnancy.

Because of today’s improved diagnostics and treatment, an increasing number of children with congenital heart defects will reach adulthood. This is especially true of children with the most serious forms of heart defects. Many children who would have had little chance of survival a few years ago may now be looking forward to a life only marginally affected by their illness.  Nowadays, the way patients themselves perceive their condition and whether they are confident with their situation is the most important aspect of their satisfaction with life.

Most people who have complex heart defects continue to need special heart care throughout their lives. They may need to pay special attention to how their condition affects issues such as health insurance, employment, birth control and pregnancy, and other health issues.

In the United States, more than 1 million adults are living with congenital heart defects.