What is Congenital Heart Surgery?

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  • Written By: Solomon Branch
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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Congenital heart surgery is performed on those who were born with a defect in the heart. It is performed only if the congenital heart defect is considered dangerous or life threatening. There are many types of defects that can occur, and most can be fixed or improved with surgery.

The type of congenital heart surgery performed depends on the location and severity of the problem. Congenital heart disease (CHD) is the result of abnormalities that developed before birth in either the valves of the heart, the chambers of the heart, or the major blood vessels that go to the heart. CHD can also be a combination of one or more of these issues, ranging from simple to complex in severity.

CHD, according to the American Heart Association, occurs in approximately eight out of every 1,000 births each year. It is responsible for the majority of all deaths in the first year of life among the different types of birth defects. As a result of the improvements in technology and procedures for congenital heart surgery, the risk of death from surgery has dropped to about 5%, a marked improvement since the 30% rate in the 1970s. Not all congenital heart defects require surgery and some forms can be treated with medication, although they are usually treated with both.


Most congenital heart surgery aims at repairing a defect. One example of this is a commonly occurring condition known as a ventricular septal defect (VSD). A VSD describes a hole in between the two walls of the two ventricles. If there is a hole, blood leaks between ventricles and causes inefficient movement of the heart.

The procedure to fix a VSD would include surgically putting a patch on the hole. In more serious cases where there is heart failure or inflammation, open heart surgery would be done. For less serious cases, or where there would be too great a risk for open heart surgery, a small tube is put through the skin to the heart, a process known as catheterization.

Success rates for congenital heart surgery depends a lot on the severity and complexity of the issue. If the surgery is done on an infant, there is almost always more risk involved as it is usually more complex of a problem. With both the increase in experience of heart surgeons and improvements in technology, the risk of congenital heart surgery is relatively low. If there is severe damage, a heart transplant can be performed, but that carries a much greater risk of fatality.


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