Congenital Heart Disease in Children

Congenital heart disease in children is a serious condition. It affects the entire family for the child's whole life. Learn more in this article.
Congenital Heart Disease in Children

Last update: 04 May, 2022

Congenital heart disease in children occurs when there’s an alteration to the child’s heart from pregnancy. In other words, the child is born with this modified organ. Doctors can already notice this issue while they’re still in the womb.

Its frequency is relatively high since experts estimate that up to 1% of children are born with congenital heart disease. Given the high frequency, this disease is very important in pediatric services. 

When a family receives the news of congenital heart disease, the problem is bigger than the disease itself. Parents know that their children will have to undergo surgeries and there’s a long process of adaptation.

The prenatal diagnosis of these malformations has improved greatly. Doctors can detect and solve some diseases. And, in some cases, they may need to perform surgery during pregnancy. This improves the child’s chances of survival dramatically.

Causes of congenital heart disease in children

For congenital heart disease in children to occur, certain factors need to be combined. There are various causes, but some are more frequent and identifiable than others.

Here are some of them:

  • Genetics: When there has been a congenital heart disease in the family, it may recur with another individual. Genetics double the risk of being born with a heart defect. In addition, there are chromosomal diseases that are associated with specific disorders of the heart structures, like Down syndrome or Turner syndrome.
  • Nutrition: If the mother suffers from nutritional deficiencies during or before pregnancy, there may be repercussions for the fetus. Lack of iodine in the mother’s diet is associated with congenital heart disease and uncontrolled diabetes as well. This is due to the constant high blood glucose values.
  • Toxins: Sometimes, mothers are unintentionally exposed to toxic substances. For example, some medications and radiation can cause malformations. Also, some habits like alcohol and tobacco are possible causes.
  • Infectious diseases: Rubella is a classic example of a maternal infection that can affect the fetus’ formation.

Keep reading: Exercising While Pregnant: Is it Safe?

Prenatal diagnosis

Advances in complementary methods have improved the early detection of congenital heart disease. Doctors are performing ultrasounds during pregnancy that are more and more powerful. In addition, the equipment is better.

In general, there are three ultrasounds that specialists perform throughout the world. They use them to assess complications and the evolution of the pregnancy. In each test, it’s possible to detect a malformation so they can treat it properly. However, it cannot prevent them.

The first-trimester ultrasound can primarily assess suspected chromosomal abnormalities, like Down syndrome. Their presence is suggestive of a heart malformation. 
In addition, the ultrasound machine can observe the movement of cardiac structures and their confrontation in real-time. For example, that’s how they can detect valve insufficiencies early.

Parents facing congenital heart disease in children

a baby crying

You should note that parental support is key when it comes to a diagnosis of congenital heart disease in well as psychological

When the doctor explains the care plan, make sure you don’t have any doubts or questions. You may not understand what surgery will or won’t be done, but you should know that it’s happening.

And, unfortunately, it doesn’t end after the first month of your child’s life. Often, your child will need to undergo more operations and some comorbidities add to the fear. For example, if your child gets a cold or the flu, it could disrupt the entire family routine. 

In addition, you should note the economic impact of congenital heart disease in children. The surgical approaches aren’t cheap. Also, if they need medications, they’re for long-term treatments. Sometimes, they’ll need to take 3 or 4 medications that they can’t stop taking unless a doctor says otherwise. 


Although you may hear this all the time about other diseases, indeed, congenital heart disease doesn’t have the same prognosis as 30 years ago. There have been notable advances in this field and the life expectancy of children with this condition has improved.

It’s important for parents to have knowledgeable doctors and that they feel good about the care their child is receiving. A diagnosis of congenital heart disease in children will always be there. 

  • Mendoza, DY Copado, AJ Martínez García, and S. Acevedo Gallegos. “Importancia del diagnóstico prenatal de las cardiopatías congénitas.” Perinatología y Reproducción Humana 32.3 (2018): 127-130.
  • Ruz-Montes, Miguel A., et al. “Cardiopatías congénitas más frecuentes en niños con síndrome de Down.” Revista Colombiana de Cardiología 24.1 (2017): 66-70.
  • Cárdenas, Susan Pumacayo, Antonio Skrabonja Crespo, and Edgar Quea Pinto. “Hipertensión pulmonar en niños.” Revista Colombiana de Cardiología 26.4 (2019): 228-235.