Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) is one of the most common types of birth defect, affecting up to 1 in 100 babies born. The term “congenital” means the condition is present at birth.
The heart is divided into four main sections called chambers. These are known as the:
- left atrium (collects blood returning from the lungs)
- left ventricle (the main pumping chamber for the body)
- right atrium (collects blood returning from the body’s veins)
- right ventricle (pumps bloods to the lungs)
There are also four valves controlling how the blood flows through the heart and around the body. These are known as the:
- mitral valve (separating the left atrium from the left ventricle)
- aortic valve (separating the left ventricle from the main artery, the aorta)
- tricuspid valve (separating the right atrium from the right ventricle)
- pulmonary valve (separating the right ventricle from the pulmonary artery to the lung)
Congenital heart disease can occur if any of these chambers or valves doesn’t develop properly while a baby is in the womb.
Types of congenital heart disease
There are many types of congenital heart disease and they sometimes occur in combination. Some of the more common defects include:
- septal defects – where there’s a hole between two of the heart’s chambers (commonly referred to as a “hole in the heart”)
- coarctation of the aorta – where the main large artery of the body, called the aorta, is narrower than normal
- pulmonary valve stenosis – where the pulmonary valve, which controls the flow of blood out of the lower right chamber of the heart to the lungs, is narrower than normal
- transposition of the great arteries – where the pulmonary and aortic valves and the arteries they’re connected to have swapped positions
Treating congenital heart disease
Treatment for congenital heart disease usually depends on the defect you or your child has.
Mild defects, such as holes in the heart, often don’t need to be treated, as they may improve on their own and may not cause any further problems.
Surgery or interventional procedures are usually required if the defect is significant and causing problems. Modern surgical techniques can often restore most or all of the heart’s normal function, and nowadays about 80% of children with congenital heart disease will survive into adulthood.
However, people with congenital heart disease often need treatment throughout their life and therefore require specialist review during childhood and adulthood. This is because people with complex heart problems can develop further problems with their heart rhythm or valves over time.
Most surgery and interventional procedures aren’t considered to be a cure. The affected person’s ability to exercise may be limited, which can progress over time and may lead to the need for further surgery or intervention.
It’s important that a person with heart disease and their parents or carers discuss these issues with their specialist medical team.