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Congenital heart disease, or a congenital heart defect, is a heart abnormality present at birth. The problem can affect the heart walls, the heart valves, and the blood vessels. There are numerous types of congenital heart defects. They can range from simple conditions that don’t cause symptoms to complex problems that cause severe, life-threatening symptoms. Many doctors classify congenital heart disease as either cyanotic congenital heart disease or acyanotic congenital heart disease. In both types, the heart isn’t pumping blood as efficiently as it should. The main difference is that cyanotic congenital heart disease causes low levels of oxygen in the blood, and acyanotic congenital heart disease doesn’t.
Some CHDs may be diagnosed during pregnancy using a special type of ultrasound called a fetal echocardiogram, which creates ultrasound pictures of the heart of the developing baby. However, some CHDs are not detected until after birth or later in life, during childhood or adulthood. If a healthcare provider suspects a CHD may be present, the baby can get several tests (such as an echocardiogram) to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment for CHDs depends on the type and severity of the defect present. Some affected infants and children might need one or more surgeries to repair the heart or blood vessels. Some can be treated without surgery using a procedure called cardiac catheterization. A long tube, called a catheter, is threaded through the blood vessels into the heart, where a doctor can take measurements and pictures, do tests, or repair the problem.