Congenital heart defects are abnormalities in the heart's structure that have been present since birth. These defects can involve the valves within the heart, the interior walls of the heart, or the veins and arteries associated with the heart.
Advances in surgical techniques have allowed most children born with heart defects to survive into adulthood. An estimated 1.6 million adults live with congenital heart disease in the United States.
Types of congenital heart defects include:
- A hole between chambers of the heart (atrial septal defect, ventricular septal defect and patent foramen ovale)
- Valve defects, such as narrowed valves (pulmonary valve stenosis) or abnormally shaped valves (aortic atresia)
Learn more about types of congenital heart defects.
Most congenital heart defects are detected shortly after birth, although some are not discovered for years. Some were managed by open heart surgery, cardiac catheterization, or were watched without intervention.
In most cases, the cause of congenital heart defect is unknown. Factors that can increase the chance of having a heart defect include:
- Family history of congenital heart disease
- Certain genetic syndromes
- Unknown environmental factors
A congenital heart defect can also increase risk for developing complications, such as heart failure, endocarditis, atrial arrhythmia, and heart valve problems.
Adult Congenital Heart Disease Centers
If you were born with a heart problem, you likely have congenital heart disease and will need life-long care by specialists who have the experience and dedicated training to provide you with the best care.
Even though many were told that their hearts were "fixed" following surgery, everyone who has had surgery in childhood should get follow-up care at an Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center. Few specialists have the experience and training to care for these patients.
The adult congenital heart disease program at UC San Diego Health is the only program of its kind south of Los Angeles. Led by Laith Alshawabkeh MD, it combines expertise from multiple disciplines to tailor the care according to the patient's needs.
Who Should Be Evaluated at an Adult Congenital Heart Center?
- Adults (16 years and older) who were born with any heart defect
- Those who had any heart surgery or catheterization as a child
- Patients who are currently followed by a general or pediatric cardiologist and wish to obtain a second opinion or to transition their care at a comprehensive adult congenital heart disease center.
Many adults with congenital heart disease have no symptoms, but sometimes it just takes a while for symptoms to develop. These may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue with exercise
- Heart racing
- Leg swelling
Diagnosis and Treatment
A wide variety of diagnostic tests may be used to confirm congenital heart defects, including echocardiogram, cardiac MRI, cardiac CT, electrocardiogram and transesophageal echocardiogram.
Treatment options depend on the type and severity of the defect. The options vary from medications, cardiac catheterization and percutaneous interventions (like Melody valve or TAVR valve), minimally invasive cardiac surgery, beating heart cardiac surgery, or open heart surgery.