What Is Congenital Heart Disease?
Congenital heart disease (CHD) is a defect to your heart's structure.
Present at birth, a congenital heart defect can include:
- Abnormally shaped blood vessels.
- Abnormal connections between the heart and its main blood vessels.
- Missing or malfunctioning valves.
- Defects in the walls that separate the heart chambers (commonly called a hole in the heart).
Unlike in the past, many people with these conditions live into adulthood and enjoy a high quality of life.
Causes and complications of congenital heart diseases
The exact cause of CHD is unknown.
Possible causes include:
- Family history
- Role of genetics and gene-interactions
- Role of common exposures (diabetes) or teratogens (alcohol/medications during pregnancy)
Because heart defects are different, complications can vary.
People with CHD may experience complications such as:
Many patients stop seeing their cardiac specialist during their teen or college years. This is often as a result of absence of symptoms, lack of appropriate follow-up, and — importantly — inadequate transfer of care to an adult congenital specialist to identify these well-known, late-onset complications of CHD.
It's important that a CHD doctor follow your condition — even when you feel fine — to ensure early treatment of any problems that may arise.
CHD and pregnancy
Pregnancy may increase the risk to the health of women with CHD, as well as their baby.
Cardiovascular risks that warrant surveillance throughout pregnancy include:
- Ventricular function
- Severe valve problems
- Heart failure
- Anticoagulation issues/monitoring
Coordinated care between a specialist at the Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center and an obstetrician can help reduce these risks and result in a successful pregnancy.
In addition — because some heart defects can be genetic — women with CHD may want to talk with their care team and a genetic counselor before becoming pregnant.
Providing lifelong care for adults with congenital heart disease
Most CHD can be treated with surgery soon after birth.
Surgical repairs help the heart work more normally, but they do not ‘cure’ the problem. Some CHD repaired early in life can re-occur later. Problems that did not need to be repaired during childhood may need treatment in adulthood.
This is why people with CHD need lifelong medical care.
The Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center — a joint program of UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute — is the only one of its kind in western Pennsylvania.
Through our Transition Program, our adult congenital heart specialists work with our pediatric cardiologists to ensure that our patients keep receiving care so they can enjoy a high quality of life.
At the center, we:
Visit the Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center at Children's Hospital's website. Or, call 412-864-2614 to make an appointment.