A congenital heart defect is a malformation of the heart or major blood vessels that is present at birth

Adults with congenital heart disease are different from adults with other heart problems, like coronary artery disease. They are typically younger and have unique problems that vary depending on the particular heart condition with which they were born. This means that care for adults with congenital heart disease must be individualized.

Perhaps most important, adults with diagnosed congenital heart defects need routine checkups. These patients need to visit a primary care physician and cardiologist regularly, even when they are feeling well, to prevent problems from occurring.

Common congenital heart defects and conditions

​​​​​​​​​​​​​Most common types of congenital heart defects are diagnosed for the first time in adulthood. Regardless of the type of problem present, individuals with a congenital heart defect have an increased risk of cardiac problems, including stroke, pulmonary hypertension, heart failure and arrhythmia.

Abnormal blood vessels

Similar to valves to open incompletely, blood vessels that are too narrow at a certain point cause the heart to work harder. In addition, blood vessels can be connected incorrectly, sending deoxygenated blood to the body or already oxygenated blood back to the lungs.

Congenital valve defects

A valve in the heart may be unable to open completely, or unable to close completely, due to a defect of function or shape. These defects force the heart to work harder as it moves blood through the heart.

Ebstein's anomaly

This defect is caused by a malformed heart valve that does not properly close to keep the blood flowing in the proper direction toward the lungs.

Marfan syndrome

This is a genetic disorder that affects the body's connective tissue, the tissue that holds all the body's cells, organs and tissue together. Patients with Marfan Syndrome are at risk of tearing or bursting of their major blood vessels.

Septal defects ("holes in the heart")

A septal defect can occur between the two ventricles (pumping chambers) of the heart, which is called a ventricular septal defect, or between the two atria (filling chambers), which is called an atrial septal defect. With either type, oxygenated blood coming from the lungs gets mixed with deoxygenated blood returning from the body. Such holes can lead to complications and in most cases require repair for preventative purposes.

Tetralogy of Fallot

This heart defect features four distinct problems: a hole between the lower chambers of the heart, an obstruction between the heart and lungs, the aorta (blood vessel) covers the hole in the lower chambers and the muscle surrounding the lower right chamber becomes overly thickened.

In most cases, the cause of any particular congenital heart defect is unknown

The factors that can increase the chance of having a heart defect include:

  • Family history of birth defects
  • Premature birth
  • Genetic conditions such as Down syndrome
  • Pregnant women exposed to certain prescription medications, rubella (German measles) or uncontrolled diabetes