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Heart Disease – Congenital

Congenital heart disease is a general term that is used to refer to a series of birth defects that affect the heart.

Types of congenital heart disease

There are over 30 different types of heart defect. The two main types of congenital heart disease are cyanotic heart disease and acyanotic heart disease.

  • Cyanotic heart disease: where problems with the heart mean that there is not enough oxygen present in the blood.
  • Acyanotic heart disease: where the blood contains enough oxygen but it is pumped abnormally around the body.

Cyanotic heart disease

Babies born with cyanotic heart disease usually have blue-coloured fingers, toes and lips as a result of a lack of oxygen. They will also experience symptoms of:

  • breathlessness,
  • fainting, and
  • fatigue.

Acyanotic heart disease

Babies born with acyanotic heart disease may not have any apparent symptoms but, over time, the condition can cause problems.

As the pressure of the blood is often abnormally high, the heart has to work harder to pump the blood. This can weaken the heart, and increases the risk of it failing.

Also, the blood pressure in the lungs is often too high, which is known as pulmonary hypertension. High blood pressure can damage the lungs and cause symptoms such as:

  • breathlessness,
  • fatigue,
  • dizziness, and
  • fainting.

How common is congenital heart disease?

Congenital heart disease is the most common type of birth defect, with six out of every 1,000 babies being born with the condition.

Half of all babies born with congenital heart disease will require immediate surgery after birth, while the other 50% will probably require surgery or medication at some point during their childhood.

Congenital heart disease can sometimes develop as the result of certain genetic conditions, such as Down’s syndrome. An infection during pregnancy, such as rubella, can also cause congenital heart disease.

However, many cases of congenital heart disease have no clear cause.


The outlook for congenital heart disease varies depending on the type and severity of the heart defect. However, in most cases, the outlook is reasonably good.

Due to advances in heart surgery, 85% of children with congenital heart disease will survive into adulthood.

Many people with congenital heart disease are now living well into adulthood. This poses new challenges for healthcare services because some of these adults have complex health needs and require life-long specialised care.

In response to this, the Department of Health has recommended the creation of specialised centres to care for adults with congenital heart disease. Congenital heart disease in adults is sometimes known as ‘grown-up congenital heart disease’ (GUCH).

Ultrasound scans

Ultrasound scans are a way of producing pictures of inside the body using soundwaves.

Heart valves

Heart valves are four sets of flaps that control the direction that blood pumps around the heart.


Blood supplies oxygen to the body and removes carbon dioxide. It is pumped around the body by the heart.


Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body.


Lungs are a pair of organs in the chest that control breathing. They remove carbon dioxide from the blood and replace it with oxygen.

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