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Congenital Heart Defects

What Is a Heart Defect?

A heart defect is a problem in the heart's structure. Kids who have a heart defect were born with it. Heart defects are often called "congenital," which means "present at birth." Heart defects are also sometimes referred to as "congenital heart disease."

Heart defects can range from mild to severe.

What Are the Types of Heart Defects?

Types of congenital heart defects include:

How Are Heart Defects Treated?

Children with minor heart defects may not need any treatment. But some babies have serious symptoms that need medical or surgical treatment within the first year of life. They'll be cared for by:

  • pediatric cardiologists: doctors who specialize in treating children's heart problems
    or
  • pediatric heart surgeons: doctors who specialize in children's heart surgery

Procedures done through cardiac catheterization — such as balloon angioplasty or valvuloplasty — can widen an obstructed blood vessel or valve. Another procedure, transcatheter device occlusion, can close abnormal openings or holes within the heart or blood vessels without surgery.

Some problems, such as small- or moderate-sized ventricular septal defects, may close or get smaller as a child grows. While waiting for the hole to close, the child might have to take medicines.

Complex defects found early might need a series of operations that are finished when a child is about 3 years old.

What Happens After Treatment?

Kids treated for a defect (surgically or medically) will need regular visits with a pediatric cardiologist. At first, these visits might happen often — perhaps every month or two. Later, they might be cut back, sometimes to just once a year.

The cardiologist may use tools like X-rays, electrocardiograms (ECGs), or echocardiograms to watch the defect and the effects of treatment.

Some physical activities might be limited, but kids can still play and explore with friends. Always check with the cardiologist about which activities are OK for your child and which to avoid. Some competitive sports could be off limits, for example.

Preventing Infection

Infective (or bacterial) endocarditis is an infection of the tissue that lines the heart and blood vessels. Kids with heart defects used to get 

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