Congenital Heart Defects in Children: Is Surgery a Cure?

Approximately 8-10 children out of 100 are affected by congenital heart defects—one of the most common birth defects. Although many children diagnosed with this condition require surgery, some do not.

Generally, we treat congenital heart defects one of two ways: either with surgery or catheter procedures. Depending upon the complexity of the defect(s), some children may require several procedures over time. Exact treatment options depend on several factors, such as overall health, age, and size of the child.

Sometimes simple heart defects can be repaired percutaneously during a heart catheterization. With heart catheterization, we thread thin plastic tubes (catheters) through the blood vessels and into the heart. This type of procedure is less invasive than heart surgery, and allows for faster recovery time. However, most types of congenital heart defects require surgery.

Open-heart surgery can involve several treatments, including repairing or replacing heart valves, closing or patching holes in the heart with stitches, widening arteries and openings to the valves, and a number of other procedures. Fortunately, most defects in babies can be repaired, but the majority of defects cannot be cured. In the rare situation when a defect cannot be repaired, the baby or child may need to undergo a heart transplant.

At times, babies and/or children may need more than one procedure to repair a defect. Repairs of moderate to complex heart defects restore the circulation, allowing the body to receive the blood flow it needs, and the need for additional surgeries and/or medications is not uncommon.

With improvements in technology, operative technique, and medicine, the survival rates of children with congenital heart disease are steadily increasing. Interestingly, for the first time in history, the number of adults with congenital heart disease has reached the number of children with this condition. Adults with congenital heart defects previously repaired in childhood may require additional surgeries as adults. Further, adults diagnosed with a previously unoperated heart defect, and those requiring additional surgery for a previously operated heart defect require a team approach for surgical planning. In fact, these statistics have raised questions as to whether pediatric congenital surgeons with experience in adult congenital heart disease could achieve improved outcomes.

Through our research at Emory, we’ve found that there are improved outcomes with pediatric cardiac surgeons performing the surgeries on adults with congenital heart disease. This is definitely a subject worth further exploration and research.

Do you have questions about congenital heart defects in children or adults? If so, feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

About Wendy Book, MD:

Dr. Book is an associate professor of medicine and physician at Emory. She specializes in cardiology, internal medicine, and transplantation. Her areas of clinical interest include congenital heart disease, pregnancy in women with heart defects, heart failure and cardiac transplant. Dr. Book has been practicing at Emory since 1998.

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2 Responses to “Congenital Heart Defects in Children: Is Surgery a Cure?”

  1. Lindsay Lehr says:

    Dr. Book, I have told you how much I admire you, and everyday I continue to be more amazed at the work you and the Congenital team do everyday, not just in clinic, but in other areas of Emory as well! Your superhero cape is your white coat! Thank you for all that you do, the accomplishments, advancements and aspirations for the Adult Congenital program!

    ~Lindsay
    (from clinic)

    • Dr. Book says:

      Lindsay,

      Thank you very very much for your kind and touching words. I too am very proud of the innovative work and care the congenital team continues to provide. I very much appreciate your compliments and recognition and look forward to the opportunity to continue to provide the Emory community with the best congenital patient-centered care possible.

      All the Best,

      Dr. Book