Congenital heart defects are structural abnormalities of the heart or its major blood vessels that are present at birth. These defects can affect the heart’s chambers, valves, or the blood vessels connected to the heart. Congenital heart defects are among the most common birth defects, affecting approximately 1% of newborns.
There are various types of congenital heart defects, including:
- Holes in the Heart: This includes atrial septal defects (ASDs) and ventricular septal defects (VSDs), where there are openings in the walls (septa) between the heart chambers. These holes can lead to abnormal blood flow patterns and affect the heart’s ability to pump blood effectively.
- Valve Abnormalities: Congenital heart defects can involve abnormalities in the heart valves, such as stenosis (narrowing) or regurgitation (leakage). These defects can affect blood flow through the heart and may require surgical repair or replacement of the affected valve.
- Malformations of the Great Arteries: Conditions such as transposition of the great arteries, tetralogy of Fallot, and coarctation of the aorta involve abnormalities in the major arteries connected to the heart. These defects can disrupt normal blood flow and may require surgical intervention to correct.
- Anomalies of the Heart Chambers: Some congenital heart defects involve abnormalities in the size, shape, or positioning of the heart chambers. Examples include hypoplastic left heart syndrome and double outlet right ventricle.
- Defects in the Heart’s Electrical System: Certain congenital heart defects affect the heart’s electrical conduction system, leading to abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). These defects can increase the risk of complications such as fainting or sudden cardiac arrest.
The causes of congenital heart defects are often multifactorial and may involve genetic, environmental, or unknown factors. While some defects may be detected during prenatal ultrasounds or shortly after birth, others may not be diagnosed until later in life.
Treatment for congenital heart defects depends on the type and severity of the defect. Mild defects may not require treatment, while more complex defects may necessitate medication, catheter-based interventions, or surgery to repair or palliate the defect. Advances in medical and surgical techniques have significantly improved the outcomes for individuals with congenital heart defects, allowing many to live active and fulfilling lives with appropriate care and management. Regular follow-up care with a cardiologist experienced in congenital heart disease is essential for monitoring and managing these conditions throughout life.