According to the American Heart Association, about nine of every 1,000 babies born in the US have a congenital heart defect, a malformation of the heart or major blood vessels present at birth. This problem occurs as the baby's heart is developing during pregnancy. Congenital heart problems are the most common birth defects and can range from simple to complex.
The cause of any particular congenital heart defect is usually unknown. However, factors that may increase the chance of a heart defect include a family history of birth defects, premature birth or genetic conditions such as Down syndrome. Pregnant women exposed to certain prescription medications, those who get rubella (German measles) and women with uncontrolled diabetes are at greater risk. Some congenital heart problems can be watched by the baby's doctor and managed with medicines, while others will require surgery.
Both repaired and unrepaired congenital heart defects frequently lead to problems later on in life. Individuals with a congenital heart defect have an increased risk of cardiac problems, including stroke, pulmonary hypertension, heart failure and arrhythmia.
Adults with congenital heart defects are different from adults with other heart problems such as coronary artery disease. They are typically younger and have unique problems that vary depending on their particular heart condition present at birth. Adults with congenital heart disease should be evaluated by an adult congenital heart disease specialist and receive follow-up cardiac care throughout their lives.