Congenital heart defects refer to abnormalities in the structure of the heart that occur before birth. Such defects can affect the internal walls and valves of the heart, as well as the arteries and veins that transport blood to and from the heart. They are one of the most common types of birth defects in the United States, and they are the number one cause of deaths that are related to birth defects. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, eight out of every 1,000 newborns in the United States are affected by congenital heart defects.
Medical experts are unable to confirm the exact cause of congenital heart defects, but they have managed to link several factors to the defects. It appears that genetic factors can contribute to the development of heart defects in unborn babies. Presently, up to ten gene mutations that can cause isolated heart defects have been identified. Congenital heart defects can also result from maternal viral infections during pregnancy, such as flu and German measles, as well as consumption of alcohol, cocaine, and medications such as isotretinoin, thalidomide, and some anti-seizure medications.
Some of the most common types of congenital heart problems are heart valve defects, atrial and ventricular septal defects, and heart muscle abnormalities. These problems can be negligible or fatal, depending on the severity of the defects. Symptoms of congenital heart defects can manifest themselves during infancy, childhood, adolescence, or adulthood, and they usually come in the form of shortness of breath and limited exercise capacity.
Those who have mild congenital heart defects may not need medical treatment. More severe defects can be controlled or repaired with medications, medical procedures, or surgery. North Ohio Heart has a group of experienced family physicians who can provide excellent medical consultation and treatment for adults and children with congenital heart defects.