Video: What's the difference between congenital and inherited heart disease?

Congenital heart disease and inherited heart disease are both conditions you are born with, but they can be very different. Our animation explains how, and highlights the most common congenital and inherited conditions. 

What is congenital heart disease?

A congenital heart condition is a problem with the structure of the heart, which develops before a baby is born.

The most common congenital conditions include:

  • a hole between two of the heart's chambers - septal defects
  • narrowing of the body's main artery - coarctation of the aorta
  • narrowing of the pulmonary valve - pulmonary valve stenosis

These affect almost one in 100 births in the UK.

Most defects can be detected during pregnancy, but some are not found until a baby is born

In most cases, a problem has occurred during the early development of the foetus. This could be due to a 'mistake' in a gene but in most cases there's no known cause.

Most defects can be detected during pregnancy, but some are not found until a baby is born. Less serious conditions may not be spotted until much later.

Symptoms of congenital heart disease in babies or toddlers can include:

  • a blue tinge to the skin
  • poor feeding
  • breathing problems
  • extreme tiredness
  • rapid heartbeat
  • excessive sweating
  • chest pain.

Treatment depends on the individual and the condition. Some only require regular medical check-ups but others may need medication or surgery. 

There is evidence that some congenital heart conditions can run in families. The BHF is funding research about this.

What is inherited heart disease?

An inherited heart condition develops because there is a 'mistake' or mutation in a baby's genes. 

Inherited conditions are passed on through families. If one of your parents has a faulty gene, there's a 50:50 change you will inherit the gene.

Around 600,000 people in the UK have a faulty gene that can put them at high risk of developing a heart condition. That's one in every 106 people. 

The most common inherited conditions include:

Look out for palpitations and blackouts, especially if you have a family history of heart problems

Inherited conditions are present at birth, but can go detected until later in life. They can be harder to spot because you might not have symptoms. Look out for palpitations and blackouts, especially if you have a family history of heart problems.

Some inherited conditions can lead to heart failure or sudden death. 

If someone in your family has an inherited heart condition you can have tests to check your heart, or to see if you've inherited the same faulty gene.

Treatments range from medication to surgery, and sometimes lifestyle changes may help.

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