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Living with Adult Congenital Heart Disease


You may be diagnosed with adult congenital heart disease if a structural heart defect was missed at birth, or if you had surgery to treat a heart disease defect as a child and complications develop later in life. 

A healthy heart takes in oxygen-depleted blood through veins, and returns oxygen-rich blood to the body through arteries. In a heart affected by congenital heart disease, the normal flow of blood is disrupted by a defect in the heart valves, chamber walls, veins, or arteries. 

Common congenital heart defects include: 

  • Atrial septal defect, which causes oxygen-rich blood to mix with oxygen-poor blood due to a hole in the wall separating the heart’s top chambers
  • Ebstein’s anomaly, the heart valve separating the upper- and lower-right chambers develops in the wrong position
  • Eisenmenger’s syndrome, an opening between the lower chambers of the heart allows oxygenated blood to flow backwards into the lungs
  • Pulmonary stenosis, stiffening of the heart valve blocks blood flow f to the lungs
  • Ventricular septal defect, a hole in the wall separating the heart’s lower chambers

If you’re concerned about symptoms you think may be related to a heart defect, Find a Doctor at Dignity Health who can diagnose and treat adult congenital heart disease in the Bay Area.

Common Symptoms of Adult Congenital Heart Disease

Symptoms caused by congenital heart condition include:

  • Blueness of the skin during exercise
  • Breathlessness
  • Clubbing of the fingers and toes
  • Fainting
  • Heart murmurs
  • Leg weakness

What Causes Adult Congenital Heart Disease?

In most cases, it is not possible to determine the cause of a congenital heart problem. However, some congenital heart defects occur more often with other health conditions. 

In adults, symptoms of congenital heart disease can arise from a heart defect that was not diagnosed at birth or from heart problems in adulthood after the defect was corrected in childhood.

Treatment Strategies for Adults with Congenital Heart Defects

The goal of treatment for a congenital heart condition is to restore the heart’s function as much as possible and reduce the severity of symptoms. Commonly recommended treatments include lifestyle modifications, medications, and surgery. 

Your specific type of heart defect will affect the treatment strategy your Dignity Health doctor will recommend. Mild abnormalities might not require any treatment, while more serious problems may need aggressive remedies. Regardless of your condition, your cardiologist will likely urge you to get regular check-ups for the rest of your life. 

Women with congenital heart disease should talk to their cardiologist before beginning family planning. Pregnancy carries additional risks for women affected by heart defects. 

Dignity Health hospitals offer advanced diagnostic procedures and treatment protocols for a wide range of heart conditions. Take our online heart risk assessment to learn more about your heart health, and talk to your doctor about our trusted cardiac care today.

Dignity Health doctors are skilled at managing chronic heart conditions, including adult congenital heart disease, in San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Redwood City.