The heart can be a fragile thing—both emotionally and physically. The journal Circulation estimates that 1 million children and 1.4 million American adults have a congenital heart defect (CHD). The condition is defined as several types of abnormalities in the heart muscle present at birth, and that can affect how blood flows through the heart and into the system. Some CHDs are mild, and some are severe. In the more severe cases, babies born with CHDs require surgery after birth or throughout their life. If you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, familiarize yourself with the most common types of birth defects and understand what options may be available to help heal your baby’s heart.
The Most Common Types of CHDs
The most common types of congenital heart defects include:
- Atrial Septal Defect – Causes a hole in the wall between the heart’s upper chambers.
- Atrioventricular Septal Defect (AVSD) – The presence of holes between the right and left-side heart chambers and deformities in the vales that control the flood of blood between the two chambers.
- Coarctation of the Aorta – A narrowing of the aorta, the large blood vessel that takes blood away from the heart.
- Double-Outlet Right Ventricle – Two of the large blood vessels in the heart do not correctly connect.
- Dextro-Transposition of the Great Arteries (d-TGA) – Two of the main arteries carrying blood from the heart are transposed or switched positions.
- Ebstein Anomaly – The tricuspid valve (the valve located between the upper right chamber and lower right chamber) is not formed correctly. As a result, blood leaks back through it and into the right atrium. It is a rare heart defect.
- Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome – The left side of the heart does not form properly. As a result, blood does not flow properly through the heart.
- Interrupted Aortic Arch – The aorta does not properly develop. It is extremely rare, accounting for only about one percent of all CHDs.
- Pulmonary Atresia – The valve that controls blood flow from the heart to the lungs does not form. As a result, blood does not properly flow to the lungs to pick up oxygen.
- Single Ventricle – One of the two pumping chambers in the heart is not large or strong enough to work correctly or is missing a valve.
- Tetralogy of Fallot – A rare CHD in which four different heart defects are present at birth and result in oxygen-poor blood flowing out of the heart and into the body.
- Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) – Oxygen-rich blood does not return from the lungs to the left atrium and instead returns to the right side of the heart.
- Tricuspid Atresia – The valve that controls the blood flow from the upper right heart chamber to the lower right does not form.
- Truncus Arteriosus – The blood vessel that leaves the heart fails to separate during fetal development properly. As a result, it leaves a connection between the pulmonary artery and the aorta.
- Ventricular Septal Defect – There is an abnormal connection between the ventricles (lower chambers of the heart).
Symptoms of a Congenital Heart Defects
CHD symptoms may appear shortly after birth or not until later in adolescence or adulthood. Common symptoms may include:
- Cyanosis (a blue tinge to the skin)
- Difficulty or rapid breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
- Fainting while exercising
- Blue-tinted lips or nails
- Sleepiness, especially when feeding
- Shortness of breath during feeding, which makes it difficult for babies to gain weight and older children to be active
- Swelling in the belly, legs, and around the eyes, in the ankles, feet, or hands
In the most severe cases, CHDs can cause complications, such as problems during growth and development, respiratory tract infections (RTI), heart infections, pulmonary hypertension, and heart failure. If you are pregnant, make sure you follow your doctor’s advice and meet with them for regular visits during pregnancy and after your baby is born.
The heart may be vulnerable to complications, but it is also strong—especially the heart of a parent. With proper care and treatment, many babies born with CHDs can lead long, healthy, heart-strong lives.