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An Overview of Adult Congenital Heart Disease

written by: kristineb • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 3/22/2011

Adult congenital heart disease affects over two million people. The scope of the disease varies from person to person, but all patients were born with a heart condition.

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    Introduction

    While heart disease in general is a huge problem in this country, not every adult living with a heart condition developed the problem. Some people are born with a heart condition, or congenital heart disease (CHD). While congenital heart defects does kill thousands of people a year, even more live full lives into adulthood.

    A congenital heart defect is a defect or problem in the heart's structure that's present since birth. For example, some of the common defects include holes in the heart, missing valves and malformed chambers. Over 30 types of congenital heart defects have been identified. Heart defects are present in about 1 in 100 babies born. Of those, over 90 percent live to adulthood according to the Adult Congenital Heart Association.

    Sometimes these defects are found before birth, but around 10 percent aren't identified until the person is an adult. Adults can live normal and healthy lives with proper treatment.

    Over the past several decades, medical advancements have greatly improved the lives of patients with CHD. At one time, many babies were sent home to die, but now new technology means these babies live longer, and often into adulthood.

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    Causes

    A congenital heart defect forms when a mother is in early pregnancy, often before she knows she is pregnant. The exact cause of all defects are not known.

    In the case of adults, CHDs are always present since birth. If the problem develops after birth, it's considered an acquired heart problem.

    Some links have been made to CHD, but nothing is conclusive.

    No cure for CHD currently exists. While care can make patients comfortable or able to enjoy normal activities, he or she will always have a CHD.

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    Treatment

    It's important for adult congenital heart patients to transition from seeing a pediatric cardiologist to an adult-focused cardiologist. However, this doesn't always happen. Sometimes patients have trouble finding a doctor that specializes in adults with congenital heart defects, according to the Adult Congenital Heart Association.

    The amount of treatment needs depends on his or her defect. A person with a slight problem might be able to only see a cardiologist every few years. Sometimes CHD patients do quite well. For example, Olympian Shaun White was born with a CHD, but is obviously physically able to do strenuous exercise and has little problems.

    Other adults have serious problems that require frequent surgeries and treatment. These patients might need to see an adult congenital heart disease doctor a few times a year or once a year. In this case, finding a specialized doctor is even more important. Some patients travel long distances, even out of state to find a proper doctor.

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    Conclusion

    While adults with congenital heart disease can often live normal lives, getting proper treatment is key. Many adults don't get required treatment from trained professionals, causing aggravation of the heart issue and emotional stress.

    Congenital heart disease is present in 1 in 100 babies at birth, and 90 percent of children with CHD live to adulthood.