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A congenital heart defect is any of a number of heart or major blood vessel conditions that are present at birth. They include conditions that either restrict blood flow, allow blood flow in an abnormal pattern, or affect heart rhythm. They are very common, occurring in almost 1% of all births. They are also the leading cause of death from any type of congenital condition.Almost all are genetic, but they can also be caused by environmental factors or obesity in the mother.
However, not all defects are dangerous, although many require surgery or medication. Although some have obvious symptoms, even in a newborn, many remain undetected and asymptomatic throughout a patient's life. Those that are symptomatic are usually associated with other malformations referred to by the mnemonic VACTERL:
- Anomalies in the Vertebrae
- Malformations of the Anus
- Cardiovascular anomalies
- A fistula of the esophagus or Trachea
- Atresia of the Esophagus
- Renal abnormalities
- Limb defects
Many of these conditions can be diagnosed prior to birth through an echocardiogram of the fetus, usually in the second trimester. Some conditions, such as cyanotic heart disease, must be accounted for during the delivery in order to save the newborn's life. However, many others can go years without needing to be treated. Some are self-resolving, and others are so mild that the medication or surgery needed to correct them poses a higher risk than the defect does.