Skip to Main Content

Congenital heart disease

Congenital heart disease is any of the heart defects that exist at birth. Although only one percent of babies is born with congenital heart disease, abnormal heart structures are the most common type of birth defect.

With the help of advanced prenatal testing, your doctor can detect and diagnose heart defects while you’re pregnant.


Types of congenital heart defects

Congenital heart disease can affect any structure of the heart, including:

  • Septal defects, or holes in the wall separating the left and right side of the heart
  • Heart valve abnormalities
  • Blood vessel abnormalities

Find a Doctor near you who specializes in treating babies with congenital heart defects.


Symptoms of congenital heart disease

Congenital heart disease symptoms can vary from baby to baby. The specific defect and the severity can produce different symptoms.

When symptoms are present, they may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty or fast breathing
  • Tiring easily
  • Bluish tint of the skin
  • Swelling of the arms, legs, and abdomen
  • Clubbing of the fingers 

Some congenital heart defects are so mild there are no unusual signs present. Some people develop problems later in life, long after birth.


What causes congenital heart defects?

Often, the exact cause of the heart defect is not known.

Some causes of congenital heart defects and heart disease include: 

  • Defects in genes and chromosomes
  • Infection
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Smoking or drinking alcohol during pregnancy
  • Poorly controlled blood sugar


Treating congenital heart disease

The goal of treatment is to allow your baby to develop normally and lead a healthy life. Depending on the part of the heart that’s affected, neonatal or pediatric surgery can fix the defect. Sometimes medication can manage the heart problem. If troubling symptoms are present at birth, Dignity Health provides care at our NICUs to stabilize your baby until he or she is ready to go home.

Our maternal-fetal medicine specialists can diagnose any potential heart defects during your pregnancy. This allows you to make informed health decisions and prepare for caring for a baby with a heart defect. Some babies need ongoing medical support and monitoring as they get older.


Preventing heart problems at birth

Your doctor can help you lower your chances of having a baby with a congenital heart defect. Preventive steps include lowering your blood sugar during pregnancy. Trust the dedicated staff at Dignity Health for complete care for your baby, before and after you give birth.

Dignity Health treats infants with congenital heart disease in Bakersfield, Merced, and Stockton, CA.

Learn more about the Lauren Small Children's Center

Lauren's Story

The Lauren Small Children's center is named after Lauren Paige Small, a Bakersfield girl who inspired the community through her brave two-year battle with cancer.

Read Lauren's story