Adult congenital heart disease (CHD) is a heart abnormality that is present at birth (congenital) but causes complications in adulthood. The heart is a muscular organ that pumps blood to all the tissues in your body through a network of blood vessels. The right side of the heart pumps blood through the lungs where it picks up oxygen. The left side of the heart receives the blood containing oxygen and pumps it to the rest of your body. Different types of CHDs include defects in the walls of the heart (known as a hole in the heart), which can cause oxygenated blood to mix with deoxygenated blood; defects in the valves between the chambers of the heart, which may cause abnormal blood flow; and heart muscle abnormalities, which can lead to heart failure. Most CHDs first appear while a baby is still developing in the womb.
Symptoms of a CHD may occur in adulthood for two reasons: they may recur many years after the initial repair or the CHD may be mild enough not to cause complications during infancy but can evolve into a more serious issue as an adult. Common CHD symptoms may include an abnormal heart rhythm, a bluish tint to the skin, shortness of breath, tiring quickly when active, dizziness, fainting, and development of swollen body tissues or organs.
To diagnose adult CHD, a physician will conduct a physical exam and several diagnostic tests. These may include an echocardiogram (image of the heart produced by sound waves), electrocardiogram (measurement of electrical activity in the heart), MRI (image of the heart produced by magnetic field and radio frequency), chest x-ray (electromagnetic image of the heart), or cardiac catheterization (measurement of blood flow and pressure in the heart). Treatment of CHD depends on the severity, as some mild heart defects do not require treatment while others may need medication or surgery. Talk with a physician about the right treatment for you.