Congenital Heart Defects

Signs and Symptoms


There are many different types of congenital heart defects. How someone might feel will depend on the type of congenital heart disease.

Some congenital heart defects are so mild that you or your child may not have any symptoms until later in life. More severe types of congenital heart problems are often detected while the baby is still in the womb or within the first few weeks of life  . 

Some signs and symptoms may include:

  • Low levels of oxygen in the blood (nurses test for this within the first 24 hours of a baby’s life) 
  • Bluish color to the skin, lips or nail beds (called cyanosis)
  • Heart murmur 
  • Palpitations (when your heart feels like it’s skipping beats)
  • Rapid breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Tiring very easily (for babies, even when feeding difficulty)
  • Poor weight gain
  • Poor blood circulation 
  • Fewer wet diapers
  • Babies or kids with congenital heart disease may not get as big or gain weight as they should

Call your doctor right away of you or your child notice  any of these symptoms. 

Challenges Ahead

Children with congenital heart disease may:

  • struggle with anxiety (anxiety and depression are far more common in people with chronic diseases, including congenital heart disease) 
  • not grow as expected or may develop other health problems related to frequent hospital stays or surgeries
  • have kidney or liver damage because of poor blood flow through the body
  • develop learning and developmental disorders including ADHD; spatial and reasoning skills may also be impaired
  • have greater risk of heart problems with pregnancy
  • develop other heart diseases later in life, including problems with how the heart beats 
  • feel different from other kids given the burden and focus on health issues; for those who've had surgeries, their scars may make them feel excluded or different from their peers
It’s important to have patience. Serve as an advocate for your child, and help teach him or her the skills to manage the condition and speak up to assure they get the care they need.
 
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Published: August 2017
Medical Reviewers: Elisa Bradley, MD, FACC; Tabitha G. Moe, MD, FACC

Infographic: Congenital Heart Defects

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