Congenital Heart Disease
Today, more than 85% of babies born with congenital heart disease (CHD) are surviving into adulthood. CHD describes any problem with the heart's structure that is present at birth, and it is the most common birth defect, occurring in nearly one percent of all births. It's estimated that two to three million Americans are currently living with CHD.
Adults with CHD face a lifelong increased risk of a wide variety of diseases including heart failure, sudden cardiac arrest, kidney diseases and stroke. In particular, about one-third of people with unrepaired CHD will develop pulmonary hypertension.
Symptoms of Pulmonary Hypertension in Adults with CHD
The symptoms of pulmonary hypertension in adults with CHD often develop slowly and include:
- Shortness of breath, especially with exercise
- Swelling of the lower extremities or abdomen (edema)
- Heart rhythm problems
In individuals who have shunts (abnormal blood passages within the heart), the symptoms of pulmonary hypertension are typically more severe.
Because CHD can overlap with many other medical problems, pulmonary hypertension is often underdiagnosed in those with CHD.
The UPMC Treatment Approach
Treating pulmonary hypertension in adults with CHD requires highly specialized care. Unfortunately, fewer than 10% of adults with CHD nationwide are getting the care they need from a center specializing in treatment of adult CHD.
UPMC's Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center takes a cross-disciplinary approach to care, collaborating closely with expert physicians in UPMC's Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Program and other centers specializing in CHD-related conditions. That cooperation ensures that each person with CHD receives the right care for their unique health condition.
Before starting any therapy to address their pulmonary hypertension, our physicians make sure individuals with CHD are receiving the right medical or surgical treatments for any underlying heart problems. Additional treatments for pulmonary hypertension typically involve vasodilator medications, which widen the blood vessels in the lungs and decrease blood pressure.
With proper therapy, adults with CHD tend to see greater improvement in their pulmonary hypertension symptoms than many other groups.