Congenital heart disease (CHD) is a birth defect of the heart that’s present at birth. It happens when something in the heart or the connecting blood vessels doesn’t form properly as the fetus is growing and developing during pregnancy. Each year in the U.S., approximately 40,000 (1%) babies are born with CHD, with 1 in 4 born with a critical congenital heart defect.1 Increasingly, heart defects can be diagnosed early in pregnancy by routine ultrasound tests, around the fourth or fifth month. While CHD is common, not all cases are serious enough to require treatment. In cases where treatment is necessary, advances in medical technology and practice are making it possible for more patients than ever to not only survive into adulthood but to do so with a high quality of life.
The symptoms of the disease, how it progresses or develops over time, and the recommended treatment are specific to the type of CHD. But some of the most common problems are abnormal openings in the walls of the heart, irregular heart rhythms, and deterioration of the heart muscle, which can lead to heart failure.
While we don't know which genes cause all forms of CHD, researchers continue to progress in understanding the genetics involved.
If you’re pregnant or plan to get pregnant, you can also decrease your risk of having a baby with a congenital heart defect by following a few common prenatal guidelines that include the following:
- Avoiding drugs and alcohol, including prescription medication, until you check with your doctor first — and make sure your doctor knows you’re pregnant
- Taking a blood test to check your immunity to German measles (rubella)
- Controlling your blood sugar levels if you have diabetes
These precautions will decrease your child’s risk of developing a congenital heart defect and keep you and your baby healthier and at less risk for other health problems.
Common heart conditions in children
Heart disease is a broad term for many things that can go wrong with the heart — in adults and children. Narrow the focus to children, and the term still encompasses many different types of problems ranging from a condition that has no symptoms and is never diagnosed to a problem that is a severe and potentially life-threatening problem.
If you’re looking for information about a specific disease and would like to know more about its symptoms, how the disease develops over time, and how it’s treated, the list below is a good place to start. Some of the most common conditions are either congenital (present from birth) or acquired (developed after birth). Click on the name of any of these conditions to be directed to more detailed information.
Congenital heart conditions
Acquired heart conditions
CHD in adulthood
Children who are born with congenital heart defects grow up to be adults with heart issues. Due to continuing improvements in heart surgery and medical treatments, there are now more adults living with the heart conditions they were born with than children living with CHD. The transition from being a child to an adult with CHD can be complicated, but it’s essential to continue effective and comprehensive heart care throughout life.