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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Congenital Heart Defects?

Many congenital heart defects cause few or no signs and symptoms. A doctor may not even detect signs of a heart defect during a physical exam.

Some heart defects do cause signs and symptoms. They depend on the number, type, and severity of the defects. Severe defects can cause signs and symptoms, usually in newborns. These signs and symptoms may include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Cyanosis (a bluish tint to the skin, lips, and fingernails)
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Poor blood circulation

Congenital heart defects don't cause chest pain or other painful symptoms.

Heart defects can cause heart murmurs (extra or unusual sounds heard during a heartbeat). Doctors can hear heart murmurs using a stethoscope. However, not all murmurs are signs of congenital heart defects. Many healthy children have heart murmurs.

Normal growth and development depend on a normal workload for the heart and normal flow of oxygen-rich blood to all parts of the body. Babies who have congenital heart defects may have cyanosis and tire easily while feeding. As a result, they may not gain weight or grow as they should.

Older children who have congenital heart defects may get tired easily or short of breath during physical activity.

Many types of congenital heart defects cause the heart to work harder than it should. With severe defects, this can lead to heart failure. Heart failure is a condition in which the heart can't pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Symptoms of heart failure include:

  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Fatigue with physical activity
  • A buildup of blood and fluid in the lungs
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen, and veins in the neck
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July 1, 2011