A congenital heart defect is a problem with the structure of the heart. It is present at birth, however many problems go undiagnosed until later in life when symptoms are present. Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect. The defects can involve the walls of the heart, the valves of the heart, and the arteries and veins near the heart. They can disrupt the normal flow of blood through the heart. The blood flow can slow down, go in the wrong direction or to the wrong place, or be blocked completely.
Doctors use a physical exam and special heart tests to diagnose congenital heart defects. They often find severe defects during pregnancy or soon after birth. Signs and symptoms of severe defects in newborns include:
• Rapid breathing
• Cyanosis - a bluish tint to the skin, lips, and fingernails
• Poor blood circulation
Many congenital heart defects cause few or no signs and symptoms. They are often not diagnosed until children are older. Many children with congenital heart defects don't need treatment, but others do. Treatment can include medicines, catheter procedures, surgery, and heart transplants. The treatment depends on the type of the defect, how severe it is, age, size, and general health.
Symptoms In Adults
Congenital heart defects may be diagnosed before birth, right after birth, during childhood or not until adulthood. Some people live their whole lives without knowing that they have a heart defect. In adults, symptoms may include:
• shortness of breath
• poor exercise tolerance
• cyanosis - a bluish tint to the skin,lips,or fingernails
Because the severity of the problem can vary significantly, treatment is based on individual needs. Some mild defects require no treatment whatsoever. Others can be treated with medication or minimially invasive procedures. Some people are referred to a surgeon for repair procedures. Whatever your path for care, your cardiologist will monitory your defect to make sure that your defect does not become further complicated with age.
People who have congenital heart defects may need antibiotics before some medical or dental procedures that can allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream. These bacteria can cause infective endocarditis (IE). IE is a serious infection of the inner lining of the heart chambers and valves. Your doctor will tell you whether you need to take antibiotics before medical or dental procedures. Regular brushing, flossing, and visits to the dentist also can help prevent IE.
Learning to live with congenital heart disease means working with your doctor to stay healthy and to keep your heart working at it's optimal ability. Many times, surgery can be avoided altogether by choosing a healthy lifestyle and proper medications. When surgery is indicated, new procedures can help you get back on your feet quickly. Discuss your concerns with your doctor so that you are fully involved in working towards your best health.