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Common Congenital Heart Defects

A congenital heart defect is a problem with the heart structure that is present at birth. Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect. The severity of heart defects varies widely. Some defects go undetected or are not detected until later in life, some heart defects may go away with time, and some may be successfully treated.

The cause of a congenital heart defect is often unknown but certain factors can increase the risk of congenital heart defects. Those include genetics or family history of defects, using certain drugs during pregnancy, having certain viruses or diseases during pregnancy, and using alcohol excessively during pregnancy. Examples of congenital heart defects are:

Septal Defects (holes in the heart)

The septal defect is a hole in the septum, the wall between the two sides of the heart. Newborns can have an atrial septal defect or a ventricular septal defect, depending on the location of the defect. Small septal defects may close with time or not cause symptoms. Larger holes can cause more serious problems with the function of the heart. Cardiac catheters or open heart surgery are required to repair larger septal defects.

Heart Valve Defects

Valve defects may also be present at birth. Heart valves keep blood flowing in the right direction when the heart contracts. When valve defects are present, blood may not be able to pass properly between chambers of the heart or blood leaks backward.

These defects cause the heart to work harder to get blood to the lungs and rest of the body, or the heart cannot get sufficient blood to the lungs and body.

Specific valve defects present at birth include aortic valve stenosis, pulmonary valve stenosis, bicuspid aortic valve, pulmonary valve atresia, tricuspid valve atresia and valve regurgitation.

Patent ductus arteriosis results when a specific artery does not close at birth. The extra artery causes excess blood flow to the lungs and overworks the heart.

Transposition of the great arteries occurs when the two arteries, pulmonary and aortic, are reversed, sending blood to the wrong parts of the body.

Other congenital heart defects include Tetralogy of Fallot, atrioventricular canal defect, coarctation of the aorta, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, total anomalous pulmonary venous connection, and truncus arteriosis.

Symptoms of congenital heart defects in infants include bluish lips and tongue, trouble breathing, poor feeding, failure to thrive, heart murmur and a weak pulse.


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