Skip to main content


Congenital Heart Disease Treatments

Treatments for Heart Defects

Congenital heart diseases (CHDs), or heart defects, are problems with the structure of the heart that impact normal blood flow, either slowing it down, changing its direction or blocking it completely. These defects are already present when a baby is born. They happen when the heart does not develop properly while the baby is in the womb.

Types of Congenital Heart Diseases

They are many types of CHD, and they range from mild to severe. No treatment is needed for some, while others require treatment immediately after birth. With the advances in diagnosis and treatment, more babies are surviving and many adults are living with CHDs.

The more common types of CHD include:

  • Atrial septal defect
  • Coarctation of the aorta
  • Double-outlet right ventricle
  • Ebstein anomaly
  • Hypoplastic left heart syndrome
  • Interrupted aortic arch
  • Pulmonary atresia
  • Single ventricle
  • Tetralogy of fallot
  • Truncus arteriosus
  • Ventricular septal defect

Causes of CHD

The causes of CHD are relatively still a mystery, and doctors don't always know why one occurs. But research points to a few factors that could be the cause:

  • Genetics can sometimes play a role.
  • Changes in the child’s DNA, genes or chromosomes.
  • A combination of genes and other factors, such as the mother's diet, health, or medication use during pregnancy, and other environmental factors.

Symptoms of CHD

Symptoms of CHD may be different for newborns and adults. They also vary based on the type and severity of the defect. Many have few or no symptoms, and some are not diagnosed until children are older.

Some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Cyanosis (a bluish tint to the skin, lips, and fingernails)
  • Fatigue
  • Heart murmurs
  • Poor blood circulation
  • Rapid breathing
  • Tiredness when feeding

Diagnosing Congenital Heart Disease

Some CHDs are diagnosed during pregnancy or soon after birth, while others may not be found until childhood or even adulthood. A physical exam is performed and diagnostic tests are ordered based on the results of the exam. During pregnancy, a fetal echocardiogram is used to take pictures of the baby's heart.

Common tests used to diagnose CHD include:

  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Chest X-ray
  • Echocardiography
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Genetic testing


The treatment prescribed by your doctor will depend on the type of CHD, its severity, the child's age and general health. Some CHDs require no treatment or can be managed by medication. Others require surgery or even heart transplants.

Surgeries that are sometime needed include:

  • Cardiac catheterization. A thin, flexible tube called a catheter is threaded through the blood vessels into the heart. The surgeon can then repair the problem or take measurements and perform tests. The catheter can also be used to open up blood vessels or valves that are narrowed due to stenosis.
  • Heart transplant. If a child has a severe defect that can't be repaired through surgery, they may need a transplant. They may also need one if they are dependent on a ventilator or have severe symptoms of heart failure.
  • Ventricular assist device. This is a mechanical pump that is implanted to assist a weakened heart and improve blood flow.