Congenital heart disease : Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Definition

Congenital heart disease refers to a problem with the heart’s structure and function due to abnormal heart development before birth. Congenital means present at birth.

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Congenital heart disease (CHD) can describe a number of different problems affecting the heart. It is the most common type of birth defect. Congenital heart disease is responsible for more deaths in the first year of life than any other birth defects. Many of these defects need to be followed carefully. Some heal over time, others will require treatment.

Congenital heart disease is often divided into two types: cyanotic (blue discoloration caused by a relative lack of oxygen) and non-cyanotic. The following lists cover the most common of the congenital heart diseases:

Cyanotic:

  • Tetralogy of Fallot
  • Transposition of the great vessels
  • Tricuspid atresia
  • Total anomalous pulmonary venous return
  • Truncus arteriosus
  • Hypoplastic left heart
  • Pulmonary atresia
  • Some forms of total anomalous pulmonary venous return
  • Ebstein’s anomaly

Non-cyanotic:

  • Ventricular septal defect (VSD)
  • Atrial septal defect (ASD)
  • Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)
  • Aortic stenosis
  • Pulmonic stenosis
  • Coarctation of the aorta
  • Atrioventricular canal (endocardial cushion defect)

These problems may occur alone or together. The majority of congenital heart diseases occurs as an isolated defect and is not associated with other diseases. However, they can also be a part of various genetic and chromosomal syndromes such as Down syndrome, trisomy 13, Turner syndrome, Marfan syndrome, Noonan syndrome, and DiGeorge syndrome.

No known cause can be identified for most congenital heart defects. Congenital heart diseases continue to be investigated and researched. Drugs such as retinoic acid for acne, chemicals, alcohol, and infections (such as rubella) during pregnancy can contribute to some congenital heart problems.

Pictures & Images

Heart, section through the middle

The interior of the heart is composed of valves, chambers, and associated vessels.

Heart, front view

Heart, front view

The external structures of the heart include the ventricles, atria, arteries and veins. Arteries carry blood away from the heart while veins carry blood into the heart. The vessels colored blue indicate the transport of blood with relatively low content of oxygen and high content of carbon dioxide. The vessels colored red indicate the transport of blood with relatively high content of oxygen and low content of carbon dioxide.

Ultrasound, normal fetus – heartbeat

Ultrasound, normal fetus - heartbeat

This is a normal fetal ultrasound showing one pattern of the fetal heartbeat. Some ultrasound machines have the ability to focus on different areas of the heart and evaluate the heartbeat. This is useful in the early diagnosis of congenital heart abnormalities.

Ultrasound, ventricular septal defect – heartbeat

Ultrasound, ventricular septal defect - heartbeat

This is an ultrasound showing a ventricular septal defect pattern of the fetal heartbeat. Some ultrasound machines have the ability to focus on different areas of the heart and evaluate the heartbeat. This is useful in the early diagnosis of congenital heart abnormalities.

Patent ductus arteriosis (PDA) – series
Normal Anatomy

Patent ductus arteriosis (PDA) - series : Normal Anatomy

The heart pumps blood throughout the body. It is located in the thorax.


Review Date : 12/21/2009
Reviewed By : Kurt R. Schumacher, MD, Pediatric Cardiology, University of Michigan Congenital Heart Center, Ann Arbor, MI. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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