What Is a Heart Defect?
A heart defect is a problem in the heart's structure. Kids who have a heart defect were born with it. Heart defects are often called "congenital," which means "present at birth." Heart defects are also sometimes referred to as "congenital heart disease."
Heart defects can range from mild to severe.
What Are the Types of Heart Defects?
Types of congenital heart defects include:
- aortic stenosis
- atrial septal defect (ASD)
- atrioventricular canal defect
- coarctation of the aorta (COA)
- Ebstein anomaly
- hypoplastic left heart syndrome
- patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)
- patent foramen ovale (PFO)
- pulmonary atresia
- tetralogy of Fallot (TOF)
- transposition of the great arteries
- truncus arteriosus
- ventricular septal defect (VSD)
How Are Heart Defects Treated?
Children with minor heart defects may not need any treatment. But some babies have serious symptoms that need medical or surgical treatment within the first year of life. They'll be cared for by:
- pediatric cardiologists: doctors who specialize in treating children's heart problems
- pediatric heart surgeons: doctors who specialize in children's heart surgery
Procedures done through cardiac catheterization — such as balloon angioplasty or valvuloplasty — can widen an obstructed blood vessel or valve. Another procedure, transcatheter device occlusion, can close abnormal openings or holes within the heart or blood vessels without surgery.
Some problems, such as small- or moderate-sized ventricular septal defects, may close or get smaller as a child grows. While waiting for the hole to close, the child might have to take medicines.
Complex defects found early might need a series of operations that are finished when a child is about 3 years old.
What Happens After Treatment?
Kids treated for a defect (surgically or medically) will need regular visits with a pediatric cardiologist. At first, these visits might happen often — perhaps every month or two. Later, they might be cut back, sometimes to just once a year.
Some physical activities might be limited, but kids can still play and explore with friends. Always check with the cardiologist about which activities are OK for your child and which to avoid. Some competitive sports could be off limits, for example.
Infective (or bacterial) endocarditis is an infection of the tissue that lines the heart and blood vessels. Kids with heart defects used to get antibiotics before procedures that could let bacteria get into the bloodstream, such as:
- dental work
- surgery in body areas where bacteria tend to grow, such as the mouth or gastrointestinal tract
But now, preventive antibiotics are given only to some children with heart defects. This includes those who:
- have a type of congenital heart disease that causes cyanosis (bluish color of the skin)
- have had infective endocarditis before
- had their defect repaired with prosthetic material (like an artificial heart valve) or device
The cardiologist will know the latest guidelines, and can advise you based on your child's diagnosis.
Kids with heart defects should take good care of their teeth. They should brush and floss daily, and have regular dental visits and cleanings as often as the dentist recommends.
Most heart defects are now treated during infancy. So when your child is old enough to understand, explain what happened. Talk about why your child:
- has a surgical scar
- needs to take medicine
- has to visit the pediatric cardiologist
Describe the treatment in a way your child can understand.
It can be tempting to be very protective. But help your child lead as normal a life as possible. Talk with your cardiologist or the care team about safe ways to do this. They are there to support your child and the whole family.
It also can help to look for local and online support groups. This can connect you to other families who can share what works for them.
What Else Should I Know?
As kids get older, it's important to help them learn how to take charge of their medical care. A younger teen could fill a prescription or schedule an appointment. Older teens should understand health insurance coverage and know how to access their medical records.
Help an older teen move from a pediatric cardiologist to one who cares for adults. He or she should play an active role in choosing the new doctor. Encourage your child to make appointments, ask questions and take notes, and set aside time to speak with the doctor alone.
To prepare for adulthood and manage their health care, teens should know:
- about their heart condition
- when to get care
- the names of all medicines, their dosages and when to take them, common side effects, and interactions with other medicines
- if they have allergies to food or medicine
- the answers to most questions about their health and medical history
- how to:
- schedule appointments
- order prescription refills
- contact the care team
- manage medical tasks outside of home
- what problems can happen if they don't follow the treatment plan
- about their insurance coverage
- to always carry their insurance information with them
Atrial Septal Defect (ASD)
Atrial septal defect (ASD) — also known as a "hole in the heart" — is a type of congenital heart defect. Most ASDs are diagnosed and treated successfully.Read More
Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD)
Ventricular septal defect (VSD) — also known as a "hole in the heart" — is a congenital heart defect. Most VSDs are diagnosed and treated successfully.Read More
Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF)
Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF) is a combination of problems caused by a birth defect that changes the way blood flows through the heart.Read More
This minimally invasive procedure helps doctors perform diagnostic tests on the heart and even treat some heart conditions.Read More
Coarctation of the Aorta
Coarctation of the aorta (COA) is a narrowing of the aorta, the major blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart to the body.Read More
Aortic stenosis means the aortic valve is too small, narrow, or stiff. Many people have no symptoms, but kids with more severe cases will need surgery so that blood flows properly through the body.Read More
Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS)
Hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) is a birth defect of a baby’s heart. The left side of the heart doesn’t grow as it should, making it smaller and weaker than normal.Read More
Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)
The foramen ovale is a normal opening between the upper two chambers of an unborn baby’s heart. It usually closes soon after the baby’s birth — when it doesn't, it's called a patent foramen ovale.Read More
Tricuspid atresia is a congenital heart defect. A baby born with tricuspid atresia often has serious symptoms soon after birth because blood flow to the lungs is much less than normal.Read More
Congenital Heart Defects Factsheet (for Schools)
What teachers should know about congenital heart defects, and what they can do to help students with the condition succeed in school.Read More
Truncus arteriosus is a heart defect that happens when a child is born with one large artery instead of two separate arteries.Read More
Interrupted Aortic Arch (IAA)
An interrupted aortic arch (IAA) is a rare heart condition in which the aorta doesn’t form completely. Surgery must be done within the first few days of a baby’s life to close the gap in the aorta.Read More
Heart murmurs are very common, and most are no cause for concern and won't affect a child's health.Read More
Arrhythmias are abnormal heartbeats usually caused by an electrical "short circuit" in the heart. Many are minor and not a significant health threat, but others can indicate a more serious problem.Read More
Heart disease, also called cardiovascular disease, mainly affects older people. Find out more in this article for kids.Read More
Getting an EKG (Video)
Getting an EKG doesn't hurt and it gives doctors important info about how your heart is beating. Watch what happens in this video for kids.Read More
Your Heart & Circulatory System
Your heart is a hard-working muscle. Find out more in this article for kids.Read More
Everyone's heart makes sounds, but some people have hearts that make more noise than others. Usually, however, these heart murmurs don't mean anything is wrong. Find out more about these mysterious murmurs.Read More
Coarctation of the Aorta
When someone has coarctation of the aorta, that person's aorta (the major blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart to the body) is narrowed at some point.Read More
Atrial Septal Defect
Atrial septal defect, or ASD, is a heart defect that some people are born with. Most ASDs are diagnosed and treated successfully with few or no complications.Read More
Ventricular Septal Defect
Ventricular septal defect, or VSD, is a heart condition that a few teens can have. Find out what it is, how it happens, and what doctors do to correct it.Read More
Doctors use cardiac catheterization to gather information about the heart and blood vessels as well as treat certain heart conditions. Find out what's involved.Read More