A congenital heart defect is an abnormality of the structure of your heart that is present at birth. Some people are born with more than one structural abnormality. Defects range from simple differences that cause no problems to complex abnormalities that can be life-threatening.
While you’re born with congenital heart disease, symptoms can occur later in life. It’s crucial to visit a cardiologist if you’re experiencing symptoms you suspect are related to heart problems.
Understanding the structure of the heart
To understand congenital heart disease, it’s helpful to learn about the structure of the heart itself. Your heart is the muscle at the center of your circulatory system, pumping blood throughout your body. It delivers oxygen and nutrients to your cells and removes waste products.
Your heart is about the size of your fist, and it sits in the middle of your chest slightly to the left.
It’s made up of three layers of tissue, four very important chambers, and four valves that act like gates, keeping the blood moving in the correct direction.
Congenital heart disease affects about 8 to 10 of every 1,000 children each year, and about 800,000 adults have grown into adults with congenital heart defects.
How does the heart work?
The right side of your heart receives blood that is low in oxygen because most of it has been used up by the brain and the body. This blood gets pumped to the lungs where it picks up fresh oxygenated blood. This fresh blood is then carried to the left side of your heart, which distributes it back out to the brain and the body.
What causes your heart to beat regularly?
Your heart beats in rhythm with electrical signals the heart receives, telling it when to open and close as the pumping action pushes blood into one chamber and out of another. The heart needs these signals to tell it when to contract and when to relax.
What are some problems that can affect the heart’s structure?
If you’re born with a defect in the structure of the heart, most common at birth, such as a hole or a leak in the valves, or abnormal heart rhythms, it can alter how blood flows through your heart. These issues account for about 200,000 cases per year in the United States in children and adults.
Congenital heart defects can affect the walls or valves of the heart. The heart valves can leak or become narrow or stiff, causing major problems with the flow of blood throughout the heart and the body.
Symptoms of congenital heart disease
The symptoms of congenital heart disease depend on the defect and the area of the heart it affects. Remember, some congenital heart defects cause no signs of symptoms.
Some children treated for congenital heart defects in childhood experience symptoms in adulthood. Common symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Swelling of the feet and ankles
- Tiring quickly with physical activity
Diagnosing and treating congenital heart defects
Nowadays, nearly all newborns are screened for congenital heart defects. Medications and surgical procedures are used in pediatric care of congenital heart defects. Because children treated for congenital heart defects may experience symptoms in adulthood, the transition to adult care is vital.
Follow-up care may be necessary to prevent complications. If you believe you have an undiagnosed heart condition, schedule an appointment to see Dr. Rajesh Sam Suri by calling our Fremont, or Hayward, California, office.