Congenital heart defects are America’s most common birth defect. Each year, approximately 40,000 babies are born in the United States with a congenital heart defect.

Congenital heart disease is a defect or malformation of blood vessels or heart structure that occurs before birth. Depending on the defect, symptoms can appear right away, or may not present themselves until adulthood. The defects can range from a “hole” between two heart chambers, abnormal heart valve development, abnormal connections between veins/arteries and the heart, to missing heart chambers, and more. Many congenital heart defects require surgery by pediatric congenital heart surgeons to correct the defect and prevent problems in the future.

Recognizing Heart Program Signs in Your Child

There are many different signs that can indicate congenital heart disease, but they present differently depending on what type of defect your child has. Some of the most common signs and symptoms include:

  • Heart murmurs - Heart murmurs are commonly heard during annual check-ups with your pediatrician. If your pediatrician hears a heart murmur and is concerned, an ultrasound of your child’s heart may be ordered to see if there is an underlying heart defect.
  • Constant heavy breathing - A baby may seem perfectly normal when their body isn’t stressed. Sometimes when they start feeding, the stress due to feeding can make them stop and start to breathe hard or they can get really sweaty.
  • Slower or stunted growth - If your baby is feeding regularly, but they are not showing any signs of gaining weight or growing appropriately, then a heart defect could be involved.
  • Blue skin or lips - In children, if their skin starts to turn blue it’s a sign of a condition called Cyanosis. This occurs because the ability to have a normal oxygen level is compromised by the heart defect and their skin, nails or lips can turn blue, especially when crying.  
  • Extreme fatigue - If your child gets tired very quickly or easily, or their heart races during physical activity, this could be a sign that their heart can’t maintain the ability to meet their body’s needs.
  • Swelling in the legs, abdomen or areas around the eyes - If your child suffers from consistent swelling in these areas this could be a sign that their heart isn’t pumping efficiently. If your child’s heart is too weak it prevents their blood from flowing properly, which can lead to fluid buildup or leakage.  

When a congenital heart defect goes untreated it can cause high pressures in the lung and heart and weakening of the pump function of the heart, which can ultimately lead to death. Being aware of the potential warning signs of a congenital heart defect can save your child’s life. 

If you think your child may have a congenital heart defect, contact the Children’s Heart Institute at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach.