Congenital heart disease is a general term for a range of birth defects that affect the normal way the heart works.
The term "congenital" means the condition is present from birth.
Congenital heart disease is one of the most common types of birth defect
There are many types of congenital heart disease and they sometimes occur in combination. Some of the more common defects include:
- Septal defects – where there's a hole between two of the heart's chambers (commonly referred to as a "hole in the heart")
- Coarctation of the aorta – where the main large artery of the body, called the aorta, is narrower than normal
- Pulmonary valve stenosis – where the pulmonary valve, which controls the flow of blood out of the lower right chamber of the heart to the lungs, is narrower than normal
- Transposition of the great arteries – where the pulmonary and aortic valves and the arteries they're connected to have swapped positions
- Underdeveloped heart – part of the heart doesn’t develop properly making it difficult for it to pump enough blood around the body or lungs
Read more about the types of congenital heart disease.
Signs and symptoms
Congenital heart disease can have a number of symptoms, particularly in babies and children, including:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- Swelling of the legs, tummy or around the eyes
- Extreme tiredness and fatigue
- A blue tinge to the skin (cyanosis)
- Tiredness and rapid breathing when a baby is feeding
These problems are sometimes noticeable soon after birth, although mild defects may not cause any problems until later in life.
Read more about the symptoms of congenital heart disease and diagnosing congenital heart disease.
Why it happens
In most cases, no obvious cause of congenital heart disease is identified. However, some things are known to increase the risk of the condition, including:
- Down's syndrome – a genetic disorder that affects a baby's normal physical development and causes learning difficulties
- The mother having certain infections, such as rubella, during pregnancy
- The mother taking certain types of medicine during pregnancy, including statins and some acne medicines
- The mother smoking or drinking alcohol during pregnancy
- The mother having poorly controlled type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes
- Other chromosome defects, where genes may be altered from normal and can be inherited (run in the family)
Read more about the causes of congenital heart disease and preventing congenital heart disease.
Many cases of congenital heart disease are diagnosed before a baby is born during an ultrasound scan in pregnancy. However, it's not always possible to detect congenital heart defects in this way.