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Adult Congenital Heart Disease Care

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If you were born with a heart problem, you likely have congenital heart disease and will need lifelong care by specialists who have the experience and dedicated training to provide you with the best care.

ACHA logo The adult congenital heart disease program at UC San Diego Health is the only program of its kind south of Los Angeles. 

We are also the first and only program in San Diego to earn accreditation from the Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA) as a comprehensive care center. Read more about this accreditation.

This makes us uniquely qualified to treat people over age 16 who were born with a heart defect.

Meet Our Team

Led by Laith Alshawabkeh MD, our program combines expertise from multiple disciplines to tailor care according to your needs. Our specialists include:

U.S. News & World Report - UC San Diego Health Ranked Nationally in Cardiology & Heart Surgery

What Are Congenital Heart Defects?

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 defects 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 the risk for developing complications, such as heart failure, endocarditis, atrial arrhythmia, and heart valve problems.

Adult Congenital Heart Disease Expertise

MacKinzie Peregoy and family hiking

Even though many patients were told that their hearts were "fixed" following surgery, everyone who had heart surgery in childhood should get follow-up care from specialists who are experts in treating congenital heart disease. 

Our excellent quality of care has earned us recognition by the Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA) as a comprehensive care center.

Who Should Be Evaluated at a Comprehensive Center?

  • Adults (18 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.

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.

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Patient Spotlight


Cristi Walker was born with pulmonary atresia with intact ventricular septum (PAIVS), a heart disease in which the pulmonary valve doesn't function properly. She transitioned her care to the adult congenital heart disease program at UC San Diego Health and describes what it's like to live with a heart condition.