You may be one of the growing number of adults who was born with a heart defect. Today, because of improvements in early diagnosis during pregnancy, treatment in the early neonatal period, surgical techniques, and pre- and post-operative treatments, there are more adults than infants with congenital heart disease. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, more than 1,000,000 adults in the United States have a heart defect.
In fact, today, some 90 percent of children born with a heart defect survive to adulthood. Just 60 years ago, in the 1940s, only 20 percent of children born with a heart defect lived to age 16.
However, even today’s more advanced treatments cannot necessarily “cure” congenital heart disease or permanently prevent recurrent heart problems. Many adults with a congenital heart condition require lifelong follow-up with a cardiologist. They may also need treatments, such as special medications, implantation of pacemakers, or procedures to repair new or recurrent, heart defects.
Your medical needs as an adult with congenital heart disease are different from the needs of children with heart defects. You may best be served by a physician who has experience in treating adult congenital heart defects.
These specialized physicians may be available to you, regardless of your age, at a children’s hospital or at a hospital serving adult heart patients. These doctors can, of course, help you with medical issues, butthey are also trained to discuss other important concerns, such as employment, pregnancy, and contraception.
Some of the more common congenital heart defects that may affect adults include:
- Coarctation (co-ARC-TA-shun) of the aorta: A narrowing of the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body and the vessel that delivers blood from the heart to the body.
- Transposition of the great arteries: The aorta (the large blood vessel carrying blood from the heart to the rest of the body) and the pulmonary artery (the large blood vessel leading from the heart to the lungs) are switched and thus originate from the wrong segments of the heart.
- Tetralogy of Fallot: A combination of a hole between the heart’s two lower “pumping” chambers and a narrowing of the pulmonary vessel that transfers blood from the heart to the lungs.
- Atrial septal defect, or ASD: A hole in the wall between the heart’s two upper “collecting” chambers.
- A leaky pulmonary valve: A valve that was repaired during infancy or childhood, which during adulthood, begins to allow blood to “leak” back into the heart.