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Understanding congenital heart disease

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Understanding congenital heart disease

Cardiology | by Dr. Ashok B Malpani | Published on 03/02/2023

Understanding congenital heart disease

Congenital heart disease (CHD) is a heart anomaly present at birth. The condition affects heart walls, heart valves, and blood vessels. It involves several conditions that are characterized by a defect or anomaly present in the heart. Many congenital diseases are minor and don’t need treatment. Severe heart abnormalities can have life-threatening consequences. Congenital heart disease consists of conditions like aortic valve stenosis (AVS), atrial septal defect (ASD), patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), etc.

In this blog, we are going to discuss congenital heart disease comprehensively for better understanding. So, make sure to read it till the end, but understand that this write-up is for informational purposes only and doesn’t interfere with a doctor’s consultation. If you are facing any issue or problem, make sure to visit a cardiologist in Kolkata for better guidance and treatment.

What are the types of congenital heart disease?

The types of congenital heart disease are divided into three primary categories:

  • Heart valve defects- In this type, the valves inside the heart directing the blood flow might leak. It inhibits the heart’s efficiency in pumping blood throughout the body
  • Heart wall defects- The natural walls present between the right and left sides and the heart’s upper and lower chamber may not grow correctly, leading to blood build-up in places where it doesn’t fit in. This type can enhance the risk of high blood pressure
  • Blood vessel defects- The arteries and veins are responsible for carrying blood to the heart. But if there is a defect in the blood vessel then it reduces or restricts the blood flow, causing various health complications

How to identify the symptoms of congenital heart disease?

The symptoms of congenital heart disease depend upon the type of defect and its severity. The common congenital heart disease signs and symptoms include:

  • Increased rate of breathing
  • Bluish discoloration of the skin and nails called cyanosis
  • Difficulties with blood circulation
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Heart murmurs
  • Underdevelopment of muscles
  • Delayed growth
  • Low birth weight
  • Feeding difficulties
  • Swelling

What are the causes and risk factors for congenital heart disease?

Congenital heart disease is a result of problems in the development and formation of the heart in the early stages of pregnancy. Congenital heart disease causes involve genetics, environmental factors, or both. Genetic causes of heart disease comprise random genetic mutations, sequence deletions, large chromosomal abnormalities such as Down's Syndrome, and small chromosomal abnormalities.

Certain infections, conditions, and environmental triggers in the mother during pregnancy are involved in the development of heart disease such as rubella infections, maternal diabetes, smoking, drinking alcohol, folate deficiency, taking certain medications like lithium, and being overweight or obese. In many cases, the exact cause of congenital heart disease is not known. It is believed according to studies that it might be due to a genetic predisposition or family history triggered by external environmental factors.

What are the options for treatment for congenital heart disease?

Treatment of congenital heart abnormalities depends on the diagnosis. Many children with congenital heart disease don’t need any treatment whereas some will require comprehensive and long-term care. It can heal on its own sometimes. Treatment options include:

  • Medications

The doctor will prescribe some medications that will assist the heart to function more effectively. Some medications are given to prevent blood clotting and control the abnormal heartbeat

  • Implantable heart devices

Complications related to congenital heart diseases are preventable with implantable heart devices. It includes pacemakers and implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs). A pacemaker helps regulate the unusual heart rate and ICD helps with life-threatening abnormal heartbeats

  • Cardiac Catheterization

This treatment comprises making a small opening in the skin through which a narrow tube or catheter is inserted into a blood vessel (artery or vein). This is a less intensive procedure when compared to traditional surgery methods. Small wires or threads are passed through this tube to assist the surgeon. In this treatment option, the chest cavity is not opened. This decreases the risk of infections and makes the recovery process quicker and easier.

  • Surgery

Open heart surgery is required to correct the disease if the catheterization option doesn’t work. Surgery is performed to close holes in the heart, correct severe valve disease, broaden blood vessels, and correct complex abnormalities such as the misplacement of cardiac blood vessels. Some children need only single surgery to correct the disease whereas for some children multiple procedures are required.

In rare cases, the doctor might recommend a heart transplant when it is suspected that congenital heart disease is hard to treat with other options.

How can congenital heart disease be prevented?

Here are some tips that can help with congenital heart disease prevention:

  • It is essential to speak to the doctor about any over-the-counter drugs or prescriptions if you are planning to conceive
  • Get your blood sugar levels checked frequently and work with your doctor to manage the disease if you are pregnant
  • Avoid exposure to the disease if you aren’t vaccinated against infections like rubella and German measles. Consult the cardiology doctor for preventive options.
  • Speak to your doctor for genetic screening if you have a family history of congenital heart disease.
  • Quit smoking, alcohol, and use of illegal drugs during pregnancy


Congenital heart disease is a defect in the structure of a heart present at birth. It can be suspected at birth even before a baby is born, during childhood, and soon after birth. If you or your baby is diagnosed with a heart defect, it is crucial to visit a cardiologist specializing in CHD. You must ensure frequent visits often throughout your life to evaluate the condition and keep the heart healthy.



What happens if congenital heart disease is left untreated?

If a congenital heart disease is left untreated, then it can enhance the risk of developing endocarditis. It is crucial to get treatment for CHD as otherwise, it can lead to life-threatening heart damage.

What is the lifetime of congenital heart disease?

More than 75% of babies born with congenital heart disease are anticipated to survive for one year of age whereas around 69% of babies survive for 18 years of age. Survival and clinical care for babies with CHD are getting better.