Congenital Heart Disease

By Shandon Carroll

5 Facts

Patent ductus arteriosus is common in premature babies, but rare in full-term babies. It has been associated with mothers who had German measles (rubella ) while pregnant. Patent ductus arteriosus accounts for 6–11 percent of all cases of congenital cardiovascular defects in the United States.

Hypoplastic left heart syndrome In hypoplastic left heart syndrome, the baby seems normal at birth, but as the ductus closes, blood cannot reach the aorta and circulation fails. If left untreated, hypoplastic left heart syndrome is always fatal.

Heart rhythm problems An arrhythmia is an abnormal heart beat. Normally, the heart beats at 50–150 beats per minute, depending on the child's age. Bradycardia is an irregularly slow heart rhythm, and tachycardia is an irregularly fast heart rhythm. Both conditions reduce the heart's pumping ability.

Obstruction defects A bicuspid aortic valve has only two flaps instead of three, which can lead to stenosis in adulthood. Subaortic stenosis is a narrowing of the left ventricle below the aortic valve that limits the flow of blood from the left ventricle.

Septal defects Eisenmenger's complex is a ventricular septal defect coupled with pulmonary high blood pressure, an enlarged right ventricle, and sometimes an aorta that is not positioned correctly. With this syndrome, blood flows abnormally from the right side of the heart to the left.

5 Facts

Cyanotic defects In tricuspid atresia, the baby lacks a triscupid valve and blood cannot flow properly from the right atrium to the right ventricle. In pulmonary atresia, the baby lacks a pulmonary valve and blood cannot flow properly from the right ventricle into the pulmonary artery and on to the lungs.

Demographics About 44,000 infants (about eight of every 1,000 infants or 1 percent of live births) are born every year with congenital cardiovascular defects, the most common birth defect. It is the number one cause of death from birth defects during the first year of life. Nearly twice as many children die from congenital cardiovascular defects in the United States than from all forms of childhood cancers combined. Most of these children can benefit from surgical treatment, even if the defect is severe.


General symptoms of congenital cardiovascular defects include:

  • shortness of breath or rapid breathing
  • difficulty feeding in infancy
  • sweating
  • cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the skin, lips, and fingernails)
  • heart murmur
  • respiratory infections that recur excessively
  • poor weight gain in infants
  • stunted growth
  • underdeveloped limbs and muscles

Some infants and children have no signs or symptoms of congenital cardiovascular defects.

Treatment should be provided by a pediatric cardiologist, a specialist trained to diagnose and treat congenital cardiovascular defects.

Prevention Congenital cardiovascular defects cannot be prevented. However, to protect patients with congenital cardiovascular defects from heart infections (endocarditis), the American Heart Association recommends regular dental check-ups to prevent infections of the mouth as well as the preventive use of antibiotics .