Congenital heart disease
Congenital heart disease means a heart condition or defect
that develops in the womb, before a baby is born.
There are many different types of congenital
heart disease. For example, a baby’s heart valves may not be
properly formed or there may be holes between the chambers of their
For many babies diagnosed with congenital heart disease, their
condition is a minor problem which either doesn’t need any
treatment, or can be successfully corrected with surgery. Other
conditions are more serious and sadly, some children do not
survive. However, thanks to advances in early diagnosis and
treatment, most children will grow up to become adults and lead
full and active lives.
What causes congenital heart disease?
In most cases, something has gone wrong in the
early development of the foetus. Some heart
conditions are due to faulty genes or chromosomes.
But often we don’t understand why the baby’s heart hasn’t developed
If there's a family history of congenital heart disease, the
mother has diabetes during pregnancy, or the mother has
taken certain medications while pregnant
(anticoagulants or antiepileptics) a baby may be at
slightly higher risk of congenital heart disease.
How is congenital heart disease detected?
Some congenital heart problems are now picked up when the
mother has an ultrasound scan during pregnancy
(usually at the 20 week scan), but sometimes they are
not found until after the baby has been born. Some
conditions may not be discovered until the child is older or even
In babies and toddlers, congenital heart disease can have a
range of symptoms, because every child and condition is different.
More common symptoms include extreme tiredness, poor feeding,
excessive sweating, rapid heartbeat, breathing problems, chest pain
and a blue tinge to the skin. If you notice any of these
symptoms in your child, you should seek medical
If a congenital heart condition is suspected after your 20 week
- You may be asked to attend another scan with a specialist
or referred to a fetal medicine unit, obstetrician or a specialist
in cardiac or child medicine.
- If a congenital heart condition is confirmed, you should be
given a detailed description of the problem, information about any
surgery that might be needed, and the overall long-term
- If appropriate, specialist monitoring and care will be provided
before, during and after the birth so that your baby can
receive tests and treatment as soon as possible. Some
heart conditions can now also be treated in-utero
(in the womb) before the birth.
If a congenital heart condition is suspected in a baby or
- Your child may undergo a physical examination and
heart tests such as an ECG.
- If the diagnosis is confirmed, they will be seen by a
paediatric cardiologist, who will manage their care.
- you should be given a detailed description of the problem,
information about any surgery that might be needed, and the overall
long-term outlook for your child.
What treatment is available?
Treatment depends on the type and severity of the condition.
Some children won't require any treatment, while others
may need medication or heart surgery.
There are also other new techniques and procedures that, in some
cases, can be done instead of surgery.
The different types of congenital heart disease
Our series of booklets called
understanding your child's heart provide detailed
information on different heart conditions in a way that’s easy to
understand. They discuss the symptoms and treatments,
and where to go for more support. They can be downloaded
or ordered free of charge.
More help for parents
Join the fight against congenital heart
In the 1950s around eight out of ten babies with a
complex congenital heart condition died before their first
birthday. Today, thanks to advances in treatment and care, more
than eight out of ten babies with congenital heart disease grow up
to be adults.
Your money helps us
fund hundreds of top scientists all over the UK, including the
work of BHF Professor
Shoumo Bhattacharya, whose team is investigating the genetics
behind why some babies are born with heart problems, with the
ultimate aim of preventing them altogether.