Congenital heart defects in children

If your child has a congenital heart defect, it means that your child was born with a problem in the structure of his or her heart.

Some congenital heart defects in children are simple and don't need treatment, such as a small hole between heart chambers that closes on its own. Other congenital heart defects in children are more complex and may require several surgeries performed over a period of several years.

The news that your child has a congenital heart defect can leave you worried about your child's health now and in the future. But, learning about your child's congenital heart defect can help you understand the condition and know what you can expect in the coming months and years.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Serious congenital heart defects usually become evident soon after birth or during the first few months of life. Signs and symptoms could include:

  • Pale gray or blue skin color (cyanosis)
  • Rapid breathing
  • Flared nostrils
  • Grunting when breathing
  • Swelling in the legs, abdomen or areas around the eyes
  • Shortness of breath during feedings, leading to poor weight gain

Less serious congenital heart defects may not be diagnosed until later in childhood, because your child may not have any noticeable signs of a problem. If signs and symptoms are evident in older children, they may include:

  • Easily becoming short of breath during exercise or activity
  • Easily tiring during exercise or activity
  • Swelling in the hands, ankles or feet

When to see a doctor

Serious congenital heart defects are often diagnosed before or soon after your child is born. If you notice that your baby has any of the signs or symptoms above, call your child's doctor.

If your child has any of the signs or symptoms of less serious heart defects as he or she grows, call your child's doctor. Your child's doctor can let you know if your child's symptoms are due to a heart defect or another medical condition.

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