What is congenital heart disease?

Congenital heart disease is a collective term for a range of birth defects that affect the heart. These include defects within:

  • the heart walls
  • the heart valves
  • the arteries and veins near the heart

Blood flow can slow down, go in the wrong direction or become completely blocked.

Congenital heart disease affects approximately one in every 100 births in the UK. Many children with the condition do not require treatment, but others may need to undergo a range of treatments, including medication and surgery and ongoing monitoring to track progress.

Congenital heart disease symptoms

Symptoms of congenital heart disease vary according to the type of heart defect and the severity of the condition. However, general signs include:

  • fatigue
  • rapid heartbeat
  • rapid breathing
  • cyanosis (a blue tinge to the skin, nails and lips)
  • clubbed fingernails

What causes congenital heart disease?

Congenital heart disease is normally caused when the development of the heart is disrupted, usually around week five of pregnancy.

Although a number of risk factors have been identified, in most cases the exact cause is unknown.

Risk factors include:

  • genetic conditions such as Down syndrome, Turner syndrome or Noonan syndrome
  • maternal diabetes, an infection of rubella during early pregnancy or flu during the first trimester
  • heavy drinking during pregnancy
  • continued use of certain anti-seizure medications, acne medications or ibuprofen

Diagnosing congenital heart disease

Congenital heart disease is often detected during pregnancy via ultrasound scans, or directly after birth. Although, some people do not get diagnosed until they are much older.

Congenital heart disease can be diagnosed via a physical exam and through diagnostic tests for heart conditions.

Congenital heart disease treatment

Treatment for congenital heart disease depends on the type of heart defect experienced, the severity of the condition and the child’s age.

Mild defects usually don’t need to be treated although regular check-ups are recommended to monitor the condition.

Children with more severe heart defects may require a number of heart treatments including:

  • medication
  • transcatheter procedures
  • surgery such as a balloon valvuloplasty
  • valve repair or replacement
  • a heart transplant, in some cases

Discover our congenital heart disease experts

Introducing our team of specialists with expertise in congenital heart disease. Whether it’s safeguarding heart health or implementing advanced interventions, our specialists are dedicated to delivering personalised care tailored just for you.