What Is Adult Congenital Heart Disease?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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Adult congenital heart disease means an adult has a defect involving his heart or its blood vessels that has been present since birth. Essentially, when an adult has congenital heart disease, this means he has a heart-related birth defect but has reached adulthood. According to scientific research, up to 10 out of every 1,000 babies are born with heart-related birth defects. Often, these birth defects cause an individual to have symptoms while he is still an infant or during his childhood or adolescent years, but this is not always the case. Instead, some people do not have symptoms or receive a diagnosis until they are adults.

When a person has adult congenital heart disease, this doesn't mean he has a heart problem that somehow developed during his adult years. Instead, it means he was born with a birth defect that was present during his childhood and adolescence and has remained into his adulthood. The effects of adult congenital heart disease can vary from person to person, and some people do not receive a diagnosis until they are well into adulthood. The seriousness of the heart or blood vessel defect can vary as well. In some cases, it may prove serious enough to require treatment, but in other cases, the effects are mild and doctors may determine that the affected person does not need treatment.


The symptoms a person has with adult congenital heart disease will depend on his unique case and the specific type of heart defect with which he was born. Common symptoms, however, often include shortness of breath, fatigue, and difficulty tolerating exercise. Some people never develop any symptoms at all, while others may have mild, moderate, or severe symptoms.

Diagnosing adult congenital heart disease often includes physical examinations, evaluation of symptoms, listening to the patient's heartbeat, and performing a range of diagnostic tests. Such tests often include electrocardiograms, which use sound waves to evaluate the condition of the heart, and intravascular ultrasound, which uses sound waves to evaluate the condition of the arteries. Other tests may include chest X-rays or even cardiac catheterization, which involves obtaining images of the heart from inside the body.

When a person needs treatment for adult congenital heart disease, the type of treatment will depend on his specific defect as well as its level of severity. Sometimes medications help with such conditions, but some patients may need more invasive procedures. Additionally, surgery is warranted in some cases.


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