Congenital heart disease – heart disease that is present at birth – is the most common type of birth defect in the United States. Approximately one out of every 110 babies is born with some form of congenital heart disease.

Congenital heart defects can occur in the heart’s chambers, valves, or blood vessels. While congenital heart defects are common, not all cases require immediate treatment after birth. However others are life-threatening and some newborns may need surgery even in the first week of life, while still others can be managed with medicines. To be safe, all children with a heart defect should be regularly checked by their pediatrician and their pediatric cardiologist.

Some heart defects include holes in the walls that separate the left and right sides of the heart, which are called atrial or ventricular septal defects. Some of these holes close by themselves while others may need to be closed with surgery or in the catheterization lab.

Other congenital heart diseases include problems with the heart’s valves which may be narrow (stenotic), or leaking (regurgitant) both of which damage heart function.

Main blood vessels can be narrow (coarctation) and there can be incorrect connections between the heart chambers and the main body arteries (transposition).

Some heart defects cause babies to look “blue” (tetralogy of Fallot) because they do not have a normal amount of oxygen in their blood. Others may lack a portion of their heart making the remaining parts do extra work (single ventricles).

Other heart defects may cause symptoms which include trouble breathing, bluish color of the skin, poor growth, fatigue, and rapid heartbeat. Some cause no symptoms at all and may be detected by your pediatrician who may hear a heart murmur during a routine examination.

Today, most congenital heart defects can be detected before birth by ultrasound, if the baby is examined by an expert in heart problems in children (fetal cardiology).

At the Children’s Heart Center at Holtz Children’s Hospital – an internationally respected center for the comprehensive care of children and adults who have grown up with congenital and acquired heart disease – a team of experts in caring for congenital heart problems go beyond the practice of general pediatric cardiology and cardiac surgery. They extend to all subspecialty fields, including catheter-based interventions, heart failure care, cardiac surgery to correct all congenital heart defects, heart transplantation and support devices, advanced cardiac imaging fetal cardiology, electrophysiology (heart rhythm problems) .

For more heart health articles during our Heart Month series, click here.

To read our Hearts of Jackson patient stories, click here.

Barbara Davis-Sears, MSN, ARNP, BC, is an advanced registered nurse practitioner at the Children’s Heart Center at Holtz Children’s Hospital, located at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center. For more information on the Children’s Heart Center, call 305-585-6683 or 305-585-5271 or visit

Barbara Davis-Sears