Congenital Heart Disease (cont.)

What are other names for congenital heart defects?

  • Congenital heart disease
  • Heart defects
  • Congenital cardiovascular malformations

What causes congenital heart defects?

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If your child has a congenital heart defect, you may think you did something wrong during your pregnancy to cause the problem. However, doctors often don't know why congenital heart defects occur.

Heredity may play a role in some heart defects. For example, a parent who has a congenital heart defect may be more likely than other people to have a child with the defect. Rarely, more than one child in a family is born with a heart defect.

Children who have genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, often have congenital heart defects. In fact, half of all babies who have Down syndrome have congenital heart defects.

Smoking during pregnancy also has been linked to several congenital heart defects, including septal defects.

Researchers continue to search for the causes of congenital heart defects.

What are the signs and symptoms and signs of congenital heart defects?

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Many congenital heart defects cause few or no signs and symptoms. A doctor may not even detect signs of a heart defect during a physical exam.

Some heart defects do cause signs and symptoms. They depend on the number, type, and severity of the defects. Severe defects can cause signs and symptoms, usually in newborns. These signs and symptoms may include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Cyanosis (a bluish tint to the skin, lips, and fingernails)
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Poor blood circulation

Congenital heart defects don't cause chest pain or other painful symptoms.

Heart defects can cause heart murmurs (extra or unusual sounds heard during a heartbeat). Doctors can hear heart murmurs using a stethoscope. However, not all murmurs are signs of congenital heart defects. Many healthy children have heart murmurs.

Normal growth and development depend on a normal workload for the heart and normal flow of oxygen-rich blood to all parts of the body. Babies who have congenital heart defects may have cyanosis and tire easily while feeding. As a result, they may not gain weight or grow as they should.

Older children who have congenital heart defects may get tired easily or short of breath during physical activity.

Many types of congenital heart defects cause the heart to work harder than it should. With severe defects, this can lead to heart failure. Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Symptoms of heart failure include:

  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Fatigue with physical activity
  • A buildup of blood and fluid in the lungs
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen, and veins in the neck
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/26/2014

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Congenital Heart Defects - Types Question: Were you or a relative diagnosed with a congenital heart defect? What type was/is it?
Congenital Heart Defects - Symptoms Question: What were your symptoms associated with a congenital heart defect?
Congenital Heart Defects - Treatment Question: What kinds of treatment, including surgery, did you receive for a congenital heart defect?
Congenital Heart Defects - Causes Question: Are genetic disorders or smoking suspected to have caused your congenital heart defect?

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