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Congenital Heart Defects

Learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of congenital heart defects and how they can affect your health.

Review of Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defects, affecting around 1 in 100 babies. They are structural problems in the heart that are present at birth and can affect how the heart and blood vessels work. They can range from mild to severe, and can be life-threatening. In this article, we will review the anatomy and physiology of congenital heart defects, the risk factors associated with them, and the treatment options available.

Anatomy and Physiology of Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital heart defects can affect any part of the heart, including the walls, valves, or chambers. They can also affect the large blood vessels leading to and from the heart. Common defects include septal defects, valve defects, and complex heart defects.

Septal defects are the most common type of congenital heart defect. They are caused by a hole in the wall between the two upper chambers of the heart (the atria) or the two lower chambers (the ventricles). These holes allow oxygen-rich, oxygen-poor, and blood to mix, resulting in an abnormal flow of blood.

Valve defects involve the heart's four valves, which control the flow of blood through the heart. A valve defect can prevent the valves from closing properly, resulting in a backflow of blood or a leaky valve.

Complex heart defects are a combination of septal or valve defects and other congenital heart defects. These defects can involve abnormal blood vessels, abnormal connections between the blood vessels and heart, and other structural abnormalities.

Risk Factors for Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital heart defects can be caused by genetic abnormalities or environmental factors. They can also be caused by a combination of both.

Genetic abnormalities can be inherited from a parent or can occur spontaneously during fetal development. Some genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, are associated with an increased risk of congenital heart defects.

Environmental factors that may increase the risk of congenital heart defect include certain medications taken during pregnancy, maternal infections, and maternal exposure to environmental toxins.

Treatment of Congenital Heart Defects

The treatment of congenital heart defects depends on the severity of the defect. Mild defects may not require any treatment, while more severe defects may require surgery or medications.

Surgery is often required for more severe defects. This can involve closing a hole in the heart, repairing a valve, or unblocking a blood vessel. In some cases, a heart transplant may be necessary.

Medications can also be used to treat some congenital heart defects. This can include medications to reduce the symptoms of the defect or medications to reduce the risk of complications.


Congenital heart defects are a common type of birth defect. They can range from mild to severe and can affect any part of the heart. The risk factors for congenital heart defects include genetic abnormalities and environmental factors. Treatment for congenital heart defects may include surgery, medications, or a heart transplant. It is important to speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about your baby's heart health.

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