Congenital Heart Disease

Treating Cardiovascular Diseases in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois

Congenital heart disease refers to various heart defects that are present at birth. Heart defects are the most common type of birth defect, affecting nearly eight of every 1,000 newborns.

In 1950, a child born with congenital heart disease had only a 20 percent chance of surviving. Today, most children who have complex heart defects survive to adulthood and can enjoy active, productive lives. In the United States, more than 1 million adults are living with congenital heart disease.

Congenital heart defects affect the normal flow of blood through the heart. They can involve:

  • The arteries and veins that carry blood to the heart or the body
  • The interior walls of the heart
  • The valves inside the heart

There are more than 30 different types of congenital heart disease. Some of the more common types are:

Congenital Heart Disease Symptoms

Congenital heart defects may be diagnosed before birth, right after birth, during childhood or not until adulthood. If the condition is severe, newborns are likely to exhibit some of the following symptoms of congenital heart disease:

  • A bluish tint to the skin, lips and fingernails
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Excessive tiredness or weakness, especially when feeding
  • Poor blood circulation
  • Rapid heart beat

In children and adults, signs and symptoms of congenital heart disease may include:

  • Delayed growth
  • Heart murmurs (extra or unusual sounds during a heartbeat)
  • Poor exercise tolerance
  • Shortness of breath

When congenital heart defects go untreated, they can lead to heart failure. Learn the signs and symptoms of heart failure.

Often a person is born with a heart defect but has no symptoms of congenital heart disease. The condition may even go undetected during physical exams. Doctors sometimes diagnose congenital heart disease when performing tests for other reasons.

Causes and Risks for Congenital Heart Disease

In most cases, congenital heart defects do not have a known cause.  However, adults who have congenital heart disease may be more likely to have a child with a heart defect. Children who have genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, are more likely to have congenital heart defects. Smoking during pregnancy also has been linked to several congenital heart defects.  Some viral infections during pregnancy, exposure to environmental toxins, consumption of alcohol or use of recreational drugs place women at risk for giving birth to a child with congenital heart defects.

Diagnosing Congenital Heart Disease

Severe congenital heart defects generally are diagnosed during pregnancy or soon after birth. Less severe defects often aren’t diagnosed until children are older.

If a newborn shows congenital heart disease symptoms, a doctor is likely to perform any of the following cardiac tests:

If a congenital heart defect is suspected in your baby during pregnancy, your doctor may perform a fetal echocardiogram. Diagnosing a congenital heart defect before birth enables your doctor to plan treatment before the baby is born. 

Treating Congenital Heart Defects

Treatment depends on the type and severity of the heart defect. When treating congenital heart defects in children, doctors also consider the child’s age, size and general health.

To repair many simple heart defects, doctors perform procedures using catheter techniques to fix the defect without opening the chest or heart through traditional surgical approaches. Medications may also be added to improve the heart’s pumping efficiency, control symptoms, and prevent future problems. 

When a defect can’t be fixed this way, one or more surgical procedures may be performed. Cardiac surgeons perform surgery to:

  • Close holes in the heart
  • Repair or replace heart valves
  • Widen arteries or openings to heart valves
  • Repair complex defects, especially those affecting blood vessels near the heart

If a baby is born with multiple defects too complex to repair, a heart transplant may be an option.  

A Leader in Treating Adult Congenital Heart Disease

Aurora Health Care offers the only specialty center in Wisconsin for treating adult congenital heart disease. Whether you’ve been newly diagnosed with congenital heart disease or have lived with it for years, you should have your condition monitored by an adult congenital heart specialist. With proper diagnosis, evaluation and treatment, you should be able to lead healthy and productive life.

At the Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center, we offer you access to some of the most respected experts in the field. A. Jamil Tajik, MD is a world-renown expert in the diagnosis and treatment of complex cardiovascular conditions. He leads a multidisciplinary team that specializes in adult congenital heart disease.

Aurora doctors are conveniently located throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois. Find a doctor or heart specialist near you. To get a second opinion or if you need assistance finding a provider, please call 888-649-6892.