What is Congenital Heart Disease?

Category: Medical Information

Congenital heart disease and the various defects related to congenital heart disease are among the most common congenital disabilities found in babies across the globe. Surprisingly, conditions that affect up to a quarter of the human population are not quite common knowledge. What exactly is congenital heart disease, and what does it mean for those born with it? Follow along to learn more about congenital heart disease and other congenital heart defects.

What is congenital heart disease?

Elderly man holding heart in pain

The word “congenital” is used concerning a defect or abnormality that is present at birth. Congenital heart disease refers to a myriad of ailments and defects that affect the function of a child’s heart and are generally noticed when the child is born. Roughly a quarter of babies are born with a critical heart defect that requires medical attention or intervention. Congenital heart diseases and defects can range from mild to severe. In some instances, congenital heart disease can range from a slight abnormality to large portions of the heart forming incorrectly.

What are the symptoms of congenital heart disease?

Symptoms of congenital heart disease generally depend on the type of heart disease and how severe that heart disease is or will become later in life. The most noticeable symptoms of congenital heart disease upon birth are:

  • An abnormally fast heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Irregular swelling around the eyes, stomach, or legs
  • Extraordinary fatigue and tiredness
  • A blue skin tone or blue lips
  • Abnormal exhaustion and heavy breathing while feeding

What are the causes of congenital heart disease?

The actual causes of congenital heart disease remain somewhat of a mystery. However, diagnosis and treatment for these diseases and defects have come incredibly far. While the cause of congenital heart disease is murky at best, modern medicine has determined that certain environmental factors can increase the risk of a baby developing congenital heart disease.

Risk Factors of Congenital Heart Disease

The direct cause of congenital heart disease is not fully known. Certain physical and environmental factors could increase the risk of a baby being born with congenital heart disease. Factors that are known to increase the likelihood of congenital heart disease include:

  • The presence of Down’s Syndrome
  • Infections such as rubella in the mother during pregnancy
  • Certain medications taken by the mother during pregnancy
  • The smoking of cigarettes or drinking alcohol by the mother while pregnant
  • Type 1 or type 2 diabetes, if poorly managed by the mother
  • Inherited genetic defects that can be passed down from the mother or father

Complications from Congenital Heart Disease

Regardless of medical or surgical intervention, a person born with congenital heart disease will always have some form of complication or symptom throughout their life. Thanks to improved treatment and understanding of congenital heart diseases, those born with heart disease can live well into adulthood. Lasting complications from congenital heart disease could manifest as any of the following:

  • Stunted growth and development
  • Endocarditis (infection of the heart)
  • Recurring sinus, throat, or lung infections
  • High blood pressure around the lungs, also known as pulmonary hypertension
  • Heart failure

What are the different types of congenital heart disease?

Older man sitting down holding heart in mild pain

There are several diseases and defects that are included within the umbrella of conditions considered to be congenital heart diseases. The different types of diseases and defects that affect the heart can range from minor to severe. The most common types of congenital heart disease are:

  • Atrial Septal Defect: A condition wherein there is a hole in the wall of the heart. This condition can resolve independently or may need surgical intervention to close.
  • Atrioventricular Septal Defect: A defect where there is a hole between the right and left sides of the heart and can result in excess blood being pumped throughout and around the heart.
  • Coarctation of the Aorta: A condition where a baby’s aorta is born narrower than usual and may require surgery to resolve the issue.
  • Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome: Considered a critical congenital heart defect, hypoplastic left heart syndrome occurs when the left side of the heart develops irregularly and causes atypical blood flow to and from the heart.
  • Pulmonary Atresia: This defect occurs when the pulmonary valve develops irregularly or does not form. This defect will usually need immediate surgery.
  • Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return: This defect occurs when blood from the vessels does not flow correctly into the heart’s left atrium.
  • Tricuspid Atresia: This congenital heart defect affects the tricuspid valve, responsible for passing blood between the heart’s upper right chamber to the heart’s lower right chamber.
  • Dextro-Transposition of the Great Arteries: At birth, this defect occurs when the heart’s main pulmonary artery and the aorta have switched places and do not function as intended.
  • Truncus Arteriosus: Truncus Arteriosus occurs when the connection of the aorta and the pulmonary artery do not separate during the development of the heart.
  • Ventricular Septal Defect: This congenital heart defect occurs when the wall between the heart’s two ventricles does not fully develop and leaves a hole between the ventricles.

While the exact causation of congenital heart disease is uncertain, modern medicine has had enough experience with heart defects to extend the life of those born with congenital heart conditions. Understanding the potential risk factors of the environment and other inherited genetic defects is essential when trying to better understand all that congenital heart disease entails. In time, more information and discoveries about the disease that affects a quarter of the population will be uncovered as we strive to improve the understanding and diagnosis of congenital heart disease.


(2022). Overview: Congenital Heart Disease.

(2022). Symptoms: Congenital Heart Disease.

(2022). What are Congenital Heart Defects?.