Congenital Heart Defects in Children

Congenital heart defects are structural problems in a baby’s heart that do not allow the heart to work properly.

Whenever possible, doctors at Rush treat congenital heart defects with advanced minimally invasive procedures.

Remarkable Care for Kids

  • Comprehensive care for children of all ages: Experts in the Rush Pediatric Congenital Heart Disease Program provide advanced medical, interventional and surgical care and repair of congenital heart defects for children of all ages.
  • Prenatal testing and support: The Fetal Cardiac Program at Rush offers prenatal testing and diagnosis for congenital heart defects during your pregnancy. The center’s specialized team will provide you with expert support, evaluation and treatment during your pregnancy and after your baby is born.
  • Advanced care for mother and baby: After fetal cardiologists diagnose your baby with a heart defect, they work closely with the specialized team at the Rush Fetal and Neonatal Medicine Center to provide advanced care to mothers and their babies with heart disease. The fetal and neonatal medicine team coordinate care for women facing high-risk pregnancies.
  • Minimally invasive treatments: Whenever possible, cardiologists at Rush treat congenital heart defects with minimally invasive procedures that offer less complications, lower risk of infection and quicker recovery than open-heart surgery.
  • Hybrid approaches available: Cardiologists and cardiac surgeons at Rush also use less invasive hybrid procedures or approaches to treat complex heart diseases.
  • Immediate care after birth: Babies with congenital heart defects often need neonatal intensive care when they are born. The Renée Schine Crown Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Rush is located next to labor and delivery, allowing neonatal intensive care specialists to care for your child seconds after delivery.

What are congenital heart defects?

Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defects. Prenatal ultrasounds and fetal echocardiograms that take images of the fetal heart can detect most types of congenital heart defects. In some cases, your baby’s doctor can diagnose the heart condition at birth or shortly after. These are some of the most common congenital heart defects:

Causes of congenital heart defects

There is no known cause for many congenital heart conditions. However, the following factors can increase women's risk of having a baby with heart disease:

  • Maternal diseases (e.g., lupus, diabetes)
  • Family history of having a child with congenital heart disease
  • Late maternal age
  • Exposure to certain medications during pregnancy
  • Pregnancy conceived with artifical reproductive techniques
  • Having a baby with other suspected health problem

If you have any of these risk factors, talk to your OB-GYN. Your doctor can address your health problems to help lower your risks and prevent serious complications. Your doctor can also refer you for a fetal echocardiogram with a cardiologist to look at your baby's heart.

Care for congenital heart defects at Rush

People with congenital heart defects have an increased risk of developing other heart-related problems, such as arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) or endocarditis (heart infection). Children born with heart defects face unique challenges when they reach adulthood — including the need for additional surgery and an increased risk of sudden cardiac death.

However, advanced medical and surgical care allows many babies with congenital heart defects to live longer, healthier lives than they did decades ago. While there is not always a cure for congenital heart defects, the following treatments can help your child live a full life with a heart condition:

  • Prenatal diagnosis: Specialists in the Fetal Cardiac Program at Rush provide diagnosis and management of various heart defects and cardiac rhythm disturbances. Early detection of these conditions allows your doctors to provide the best possible care for your baby during and after delivery.
  • Medication: Some conditions, such as fetal arrhythmia, may require medication (given to the mother) during pregnancy.
  • Monitoring: Some congenital heart defects resolve without treatment. Your child will need close monitoring and testing with an experienced cardiologist.
  • Cardiac catherization: During these minimally invasive procedures, a cardiologist will thread a catheter (a long tube) through the blood vessels into the heart to repair a problem.
  • Surgery: The most serious congenital heart defects require open heart reconstructive surgery to treat and/or repair the abnormality.
  • Nutrition counseling: Many babies with congenital heart defects need nutritional support to help them grow and develop normally. Neonatal dietitians at Rush can help you determine the best nutrition plan for your baby.
  • Follow-up care: Your child will need lifelong monitoring and regular follow-up with a cardiologist to help prevent health issues down the road.