About Congenital Heart Defects

Father kissing baby's foot

A congenital heart defect (CHD) results when the heart, or blood vessels near the heart, don’t develop normally before birth. Such defects result when a mishap occurs during heart development soon after conception — often before the mother is aware that she is pregnant.

The word “congenital” means existing at birth. The terms “congenital heart defect” and “congenital heart disease” are often used to mean the same thing, but “defect” is more accurate.

There are several categories of possible childhood heart problems: defects from faulty embryo development, misplaced structures, structures that don’t develop properly and heart rhythm disturbances. These defects are usually, but not always, diagnosed early in life. Congenital heart defects range in severity from simple problems, such as “holes” between chambers of the heart, to very severe malformations, such as the complete absence of one or more chambers or valves.

Such problems may or may not have a disruptive effect on a person’s circulatory system. But having a congenital heart defect can increase your risk of developing certain medical conditions that include: 

CHDs affect nearly 1% of, or about 40,000, births per year. Virtually all children with simple defects survive into adulthood. Although exercise capacity may be limited, most people lead normal or nearly normal lives. With more complex problems, limitations are common. Some children with congenital heart defects have developmental delay or other learning difficulties.
Your health care team can be a vital source of information. You can also turn to the following resources to learn about the different types of congenital heart defects, testing that can aid in diagnosis and treatment options: