A congenital heart defect is a condition you’re born with. Types of heart defects vary in severity — with some, you’ll need surgery as a child, while others don’t need treatment until later in life or at all.

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Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect. While a heart defect can sound scary, they’re not always serious conditions, and some are mild and never need treatment.

However, others are complex and can require multiple surgeries and other treatments over many years. Diagnosing heart defects early means doctors can treat and manage the condition.

Read on to learn more about some common types of congenital heart diseases

An atrial septal defect (ASD) is a birth defect that causes a hole in the septum, the wall that separates the heart’s two upper chambers.

All babies are born with some opening between the atria, called the foramen ovale. This usually closes up on its own, but if it doesn’t, it might require treatment.

An ASD is different because it’s larger and is considered to be a congenital defect. It happens when the tissue between the atria doesn’t fully form while the baby is in the womb.

If you have an ASD closed with surgery, you’re unlikely to have long-term complications or need any ongoing treatment.

A ventricular septal defect (VSD) is a hole in the wall separating the right and left ventricles. This means the heart has to work harder, and fluid can build up in the lungs.

While smaller holes can close up on their own, larger holes need surgery to repair them. The outlook is typically positive, and a long, active life is very possible.

Having an atrioventricular septal defect (AVSD), also known as an atrioventricular canal defect, is a combination of an ASD and VSD. It means you have one or more holes between the atria and the ventricles (the heart’s lower chambers).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 out of every 1,859 babies born in the United States every year has an AVSD.

It happens when oxygen-rich blood is allowed to mix with oxygen-poor blood, which means the body’s organs receive blood that doesn’t have enough oxygen. Symptoms to look out for include a rapid heartbeat, bluish skin, and breathing problems.

Surgery is usually required to repair an AVSD and make sure the affected valves are working normally.

This happens when the aorta, the large artery that leaves the heart, becomes narrowed. It can reduce blood flow and cause high blood pressure.

In mild cases, there may be no obvious symptoms, and the condition can go undetected for years. However, more severe cases may be obvious within a week after birth.

In some cases, the aorta is narrowed further down, which means the upper body gets enough oxygenated blood while the lower body doesn’t. This can cause a baby to have a bluish appearance in their lower body but a typical appearance in their upper body.

Treatment options include surgery to repair the narrowed section of the blood vessel or the use of a balloon catheter to widen part of the aorta. A surgeon can also use a catheter may also be used to deliver a stent, which is a tiny tube. This tube will keep the blood vessel open permanently.

Hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) occurs when the left side of the baby’s heart is underdeveloped. It’s very rare, affecting just 1 out of every 3,841 babies born in the United States each year.

Medications to strengthen heart function, manage blood pressure, and help the body excrete excess fluids may be started in infancy.

Infants with this condition will usually have a three-part surgery plan that takes place over several years. It includes:

  • Norwood procedure: This moves the aorta to the right side of the heart, which is stronger than the left side, allowing the blood to mix more easily.
  • Bi-directional Glenn shunt procedure: This takes blood from the body and bypasses the right ventricle, sending the blood directly to the lungs and taking strain off the heart.
  • Fontan procedure: This procedure sends blood directly to the lungs, stopping non-oxygenated blood from mixing with oxygenated blood.

Your doctor might also recommend additional surgeries and medications. In particularly complicated cases, children might need a heart transplant.

This is a heart defect involving the pulmonary valve, which controls blood flow to the lungs. It’s a rare condition, affecting about 1 out of every 7,100 babies born in the United States annually.

Among the most obvious symptoms are breathing difficulties in the hours after birth.

In some cases, a balloon catheter or stent can be used to widen the pulmonary artery. For many babies with pulmonary atresia, surgery to repair or replace the pulmonary valve is the best solution.

Tetralogy of Fallot is the most common complex congenital heart defect. It is a combination of four congenital heart defects, including:

  • Pulmonary valve stenosis: This is an unusually stiff valve.
  • Large ventricular septal defect: This can increase blood pressure in the lungs.
  • Overriding aorta: This means that the aorta is in the wrong place, interfering with healthy blood flow in the heart.
  • Right ventricular hypertrophy: This is a thickening of the right ventricle because it’s working too hard.

Newborns with this condition can have surgery to correct the heart defects. This allows many children to grow up leading healthy, active lives.

Total anomalous pulmonary venous return (TAPVR), also known as total anomalous pulmonary venous connection (TAPVC), is a condition where the veins bringing blood from the lungs to the heart don’t connect properly. Blood is pumped from the right side of the heart and back to the right side, skipping the left.

As a result, a baby doesn’t get enough oxygenated blood circulating to all the organs, muscles, and other tissues. Treatment is typically surgery to correct how the veins connect.

A baby born with tricuspid atresia has no tricuspid valve. This valve controls the flow of blood from the right atrium down to the right ventricle.

If an infant has this condition, they’ll likely have symptoms such as difficulty breathing and fatigue soon after birth. One or more surgeries are usually needed to create a healthy pathway for blood to flow properly.

Dextro-transposition of the great arteries (d-TGA) means the two main arteries carrying blood from the heart — the aorta and the pulmonary artery — are switched. As a result, oxygen-rich blood is pumped from the heart to the lungs. Oxygen-poor blood gets circulated back out to the body.

The most common treatment is an arterial switch operation. During this, a surgeon moves the two arteries into their correct positions and ensures there is healthy blood flow into and out of the heart.

Truncus arteriosus is a very rare congenital heart defect. It occurs when the main artery leaving the heart remains a single vessel instead of separating into an aorta and pulmonary artery.

Surgery to create two separate arteries can help restore circulation. However, since one of those new arteries is artificial and won’t grow as the child grows, further surgeries are often needed to help maintain healthy blood flow to the lungs and body.

The following are answers to commonly asked questions about congenital heart disease.

What is your life expectancy if you have a congenital heart disease?

The type and severity of the heart defect, as well as how and when it is treated, all factor into a person’s outlook.

The CDC reports that about 81% of people with congenital heart defects live to at least age 35 years. Many of those individuals can expect to live much longer, particularly if their heart problems were treated effectively when they were young.

Is a congenital heart defect ever reversible?

There is technically no “cure” for a congenital heart defect, but it can be treated or repaired.

Even with successful treatment, simply having had a congenital heart defect can raise your chance of heart rhythm problems or other complications later in life. It’s important to have regular check-ups throughout your lifetime.

Will a congenital heart defect ever go away on its own?

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute reports that most simple congenital heart defects get better on their own and never require surgery or other interventions. However, critical congenital heart defects almost always require at least one surgery and sometimes multiple surgeries as a person’s heart grows over time.

Most causes of congenital heart disease are unknown, though in some cases, hereditary factors are at play.

Regardless of the underlying cause of a congenital heart defect, it’s important that children receive a timely diagnosis and treatment plan. Most congenital defects go away on their own — while more complex defects require surgeries, they are in the minority.

There may be many surgeries and doctor appointments ahead, but as medical technology and doctor expertise continue to improve, so too do the odds of an individual with a congenital heart defect living a long and healthy life.