Congenital heart defects (CHD) are heart conditions that a baby is born with. These conditions can affect the heart’s shape or how it works, or both.
Congenital heart defects are the most common types of birth defects. Birth defects are health conditions that a baby is born with that change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops, or in how the body works.
Nearly one in 100 babies (about 1 percent or 40,000 babies) is born with a heart defect in the United States each year. There are 35 different types of CHD. Many heart defects don’t need treatment or can be fixed easily, but some, like critical congenital heart disease, can cause serious health problems or death.
What causes congenital heart defects?
Heart defects develop in the early weeks of pregnancy when the heart is forming, often before you know you’re pregnant. We’re not sure what causes most congenital heart defects, but these things may play a role:
Medical conditions in mom
• Diabetes, a medical condition in which your body has too much sugar (called glucose) in your blood
• Lupus, an autoimmune disorder. Autoimmune disorders are health conditions that happen when antibodies (cells in the body that fight off infections) attack healthy tissue just about anywhere in the body by mistake. Lupus may cause problems with a person’s heartbeat.
• Rubella (German measles) in the first 3 months of pregnancy
• Being obese (very overweight). An obese person has a body mass index (also called BMI) over 30.
• Phenylketonuria (PKU) and not following the PKU meal plan
Conditions in your everyday life (lifestyle and environment)
Some things in your life and environment (where and how you live) may increase your chances of having a baby with congenital heart defects. These include:
• Smoking before or during pregnancy
• Drinking alcohol during pregnancy
• Taking certain medicines. Tell your provider about any medicine you take. This includes prescription medicine, over-the counter medicine, herbal products and supplements. Some medicines used to treat conditions, like acne, seizures or bipolar disorder (a kind of mental illness), may increase your baby’s risk of congenital heart defects. You may need to stop taking a medicine or switch to another medicine during pregnancy. Don’t stop taking any prescription medicine without your provider’s OK.
Signs and Symptoms
After birth, signs and symptoms of heart defects can include:
• Fast breathing
• Gray or blue skin coloring
• Fatigue (feeling tired all of the time)
• Slow weight gain
• Swollen belly, legs or puffiness around the eyes
• Trouble breathing while feeding
• Sweating, especially while feeding
• Abnormal heart murmur (extra or abnormal sounds heard during a heartbeat)
• If your baby shows any of these signs or symptoms, call her health care provider right away.
If your baby’s health care provider thinks your baby has a congenital heart defect or CCHD, they can refer you to a pediatric cardiologist.