Adult Congenital Heart Disease Care

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 heart. There are two to three million adults and children living with congenital heart defects. The congenital heart disease program at UC San Diego Health is led by Laith Alshawabkeh MD.

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)

Most congenital heart defects are detected shortly after birth, although some are not discovered for years. Some resolve on their own and may not need any treatment. Others, such as atrial septal defect, may need to be repaired.


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 birth defects
  • Premature birth
  • Genetic conditions such as Down syndrome


Many congenital heart defects are minor and cause no symptoms. However, symptoms can include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue with exercise

Having a congenital heart defect can also increase your risk for developing complications, such as heart failure, endocarditis, atrial fibrillation, and heart valve problems.


A wide variety of diagnostic tests may be used to confirm congenital heart defects, including echocardiogram, intravascular ultrasound, electrocardiogram and transesophageal echocardiogram.

Treatment options

Treatment options depend on the type and severity of the defect. Patent foramen ovale and atrial septal defects, for example, may be repaired using PFO/ASD closure devices.

Learn more about congenital heart disease.

​Appointments and Referrals

  • New and Existing Patients: 858-657-8530
  • Referring Physicians: 858-657-8817


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