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What is CHD?

Congenital heart disease means a heart condition or defect that develops in the womb, before a baby is born.

There are many different types of congenital heart disease. For example, a baby’s heart valves may not be properly formed or there may be holes between the chambers of their heart.

What causes congenital heart disease?

In most cases, something has gone wrong in the early development of the foetus. Some heart conditions are due to faulty genes or chromosomes. But often we don’t understand why the baby’s heart hasn’t developed normally.


If there’s a family history of congenital heart disease, the mother has diabetes during pregnancy, or the mother has taken certain medications while pregnant (anticoagulants or antiepileptics) a baby may be at slightly higher risk of congenital heart disease.

How is congenital heart disease detected?

Some congenital heart problems are now picked up when the mother has an ultrasound scan during pregnancy (usually at the 20-week scan), but sometimes they are not found until after the baby has been born. Some conditions may not be discovered until the child is older or even an adult.

In babies and toddlers, congenital heart disease can have a range of symptoms because every child and condition is different. More common symptoms include extreme tiredness, poor feeding, excessive sweating, rapid heartbeat, breathing problems, chest pain and a blue tinge to the skin. If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, you should seek medical attention.

If a congenital heart condition is suspected after your 20-week pregnancy scan

You may be asked to attend another scan with a specialist or referred to a fetal medicine unit, obstetrician or a specialist in cardiac or child medicine.

If a congenital heart condition is confirmed, you should be given a detailed description of the problem, information about any surgery that might be needed, and the overall long-term outlook.

If appropriate, specialist monitoring and care will be provided before, during and after the birth so that your baby can receive tests and treatment as soon as possible.  Some heart conditions can now also be treated in-utero (in the womb) before the birth.

If a congenital heart condition is suspected in a baby or child

Your child may undergo a physical examination and heart tests such as an ECG.

If the diagnosis is confirmed, they will be seen by a paediatric cardiologist, who will manage their care. You should be given a detailed description of the problem, information about any surgery that might be needed, and the overall long-term outlook for your child.

What treatment is available?

The treatments for congenital heart conditions depend on the type and severity of the condition. For many babies diagnosed with congenital heart disease, their condition is a minor problem which doesn’t need any treatment. Others may need to have some form of treatment, usually either medication or heart surgery. There are also other new techniques and procedures that, in some cases, can be done instead of surgery.

Types of congenital heart disease

There are many different types of congenital heart defects. The British Heart Foundation’s series of booklets provides detailed information about 16 different congenital heart conditions, in a way that’s easy to understand. The booklets cover symptoms and treatments, and where to go for more support. 

 

You can download the booklets from the British Heart Foundations website.

In most cases of CHD heart disease, the cause is unknown. 3,000 children & young adults living with a Fontan circulation in the UK. Average age of death is 28 – half die of heart failure, a study from the Royal Brompton Hospital, London.

Learn more about CHD from the British Heart Foundation website