Congenital Heart Disease

What is Congenital Heart Disease?

Congenital heart disease stems from an abnormality in the heart’s structure that is present at birth. Conditions can include defects of the heart valve; a hole in the heart or passageway between two of the heart’s chambers; problems with the arteries that carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body; problems with veins leading from the lungs to the heart; or problems with one or more of the heart’s chambers.

Congenital heart problems may be discovered before birth, shortly after birth, or years after birth. They can range from simple defects that present no symptoms, to complex conditions that are life-threatening.

Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients in the diagnosis, management and treatment of congenital heart disease. You will appreciate timely appointments and respectful attention to your concerns, all in a positive and friendly atmosphere. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.

Signs and Symptoms for Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart disease symptoms depend on the type of defect. Although congenital heart disease is present at birth, symptoms may not appear right away.

Common symptoms can include:

  • Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms)
  • Cyanosis (a bluish tint to the skin)
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of body tissue or organs
  • Tiring quickly upon exertion


To diagnose aortic valve regurgitation, we ask questions about your medical history and do a physical exam. We then use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Common diagnostic procedures can include:

Cardiac catheterization: A long, thin flexible tube is threaded through a blood vessel in the arm or groin and to the heart. Contrast material is injected through the tube and a type of X-ray video is taken to show how the heart functions and to look for heart blockages.

Chest X-ray: A common imaging test of the lungs, heart and aorta.

Echocardiogram: This ultrasound exam uses soundwaves to take moving pictures of the heart’s chambers and valves. 

Electrocardiogram (EKG): This test measures the electrical activity of the heart and can help determine if parts of the heart are enlarged, overworked or damaged. The heart’s electrical currents are detected by 12 to 15 electrodes that are attached to the arms, legs and chest via sticky tape.

Pulse oximetry: A small sensor is attached to a finger or toe (like an adhesive bandage). The sensor gives an estimate of how much oxygen is in the blood 


Most congenital heart defects develop when a baby is still in the womb. Researchers aren't sure exactly what causes defects to begin, but medical conditions, medications and genetics may play a role.

Some adults have problems with heart defects later in life, even if their defects were treated in childhood. This is because heart defects are often repaired, rather than cured, so heart function is improved but not completely normal. 

Risk Factors

Risk factors that could contribute to congenital heart disease include:

Diabetes: A mother’s type 1 or type 2 diabetes can interfere with the development of a baby’s heart.

German measles (rubella): A mother’s infection with rubella while pregnant can affect her baby’s heart development.

Heredity: Congenital heart disease sometimes runs in families, and it is associated with many genetic syndromes, including Down syndrome.

Medications: Certain medications taken by a mother while she’s pregnant can cause birth defects, including some acne medications and drugs used to treat bipolar disorder.


You cannot prevent congenital heart disease. 


The outlook for children with congenital heart defects is much better today than in the past. Advances in testing and treatment allow most of these children to survive well into adulthood. Adults who needed regular medical checkups for congenital heart defects as children may need to keep seeing specialists into adulthood and may require follow-up treatments.

Treatment and Recovery for Congenital Heart Disease

Some minor congenital heart defects resolve on their own, while others require immediate or repeated treatment, such as:


If your congenital heart defect is mild, your doctor may just prescribe medications for treatment that help the heart work more efficiently. You may also need medication to prevent blood clots or to control an irregular heartbeat


There are many hearty surgery procedures that can effectively repair heart defects. They include:

  • Special catheter procedures: Some congenital heart defects can be repaired using catheterization techniques without surgically opening the chest and heart. A long, thin flexible tube is threaded through a blood vessel in the arm or groin and to the heart. Special techniques are used with the catheter to make some heart repairs.
  • Implantable devices: Devices can be implanted in the chest to help control heart rate and correct life-threatening irregular arrhythmias.
  • Open-heart surgery: Sometimes certain heart defects require the chest be opened in order to make repairs or, in rare cases, to make a heart transplant.

Recovery After Surgery

Recovery after heart surgery depends upon the type of procedure and your condition before surgery. After a heart catheterization, you may spend one day in the hospital before going home. If a device is implanted, you may spend one to seven days in the hospital. Open-heart surgery may require you spend five days to several weeks in the hospital. In all cases, your physician will tell you when you may be physically active again and how long you can expect your recovery to take.


Congenital heart disease can cause complications including:

Arrhythmia: The heart may beat too fast, too slow or abnormally due to the defect itself or from scarring after surgery.

Congestive heart failure: When the heart is unable to pump oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body efficiently, symptoms affect various body systems.

Heart infections (endocarditis): This infection of the thin membrane lining the inside of the heart occurs when bacteria or other germs enter the bloodstream from another part of the body and lodge in the heart. Left untreated, it can damage heart valves or trigger a stroke.

Pulmonary hypertension: This type of high blood pressure affects only the arteries in the lungs. Certain heart defects cause more blood to flow to the lungs. As pressure builds, the heart must work harder – causing the muscle to weaken and sometimes fail. Permanent lung artery damage can also occur. 

Slower growth and development: Children with serious congenital heart defects may be smaller and may learn to walk and talk later than other children.

Stroke: Though rare, blood clots may travel through a hole in the heart to the brain or form during corrective surgeries. 

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