Signs and Symptoms of Congenital Heart Defects

CDH BabyBecause congenital defects can decrease the heart’s ability to pump blood and deliver oxygen throughout the body, they often produce telltale signs. Below are some of the more common symptoms that indicate a baby may have congenital heart disease (CHD).

  • Heart Murmur

A heart murmur is often the first sign of CHD. In basic terms, a murmur is just an extra heart sound, in addition to the regular sounds of a beating heart. Heart murmurs usually don’t indicate the presence of any heart problem. Sometimes a doctor can use a stethoscope alone to determine whether a particular murmur is a sign of heart disease. In other cases additional tests are necessary to determine the exact nature of a murmur.

  • Breathing Difficulties

Breathing difficulty caused by blood building up in the lungs (lung congestion) is a sign of a serious defect that will likely need medical or surgical intervention in the first year of life. Lung congestion may be the result of excessive blood flow from the left side of the heart to the right side through an abnormal connection, such as a hole in the heart or a connection between major blood vessels that allows blood to bypass the heart. Congestion can also be the result of an obstruction in blood flow on the left side of the heart that causes blood to back up in the vessels returning blood from the lungs.

  • Blue Skin

Some CHDs result in an inadequate amount of oxygen in the blood, which can cause the baby’s skin to have a bluish tint, especially in the lips, tongue, fingernails and toenails—called cyanosis. Cyanosis can result from an obstruction of blood flow to the lungs or a hole within the heart that allows oxygen-poor blood to flow from the right side to the left side and out to the body. It can also be related to other heart issues, including an abnormal positioning (transposition) of the arteries leaving the heart.

  • Failure to Thrive

Another result of inadequate oxygen in the blood is that an infant may lose weight or not gain enough, or may take longer to reach developmental milestones. These symptoms can result directly from the body not receiving enough oxygen to thrive, or they may be an indirect consequence of the infant tiring during feeding because of a lack of oxygen and, as a result, not receiving enough nutrients.

  • Excessive Sweating

Many CHDs can cause excess blood flow through the lungs, which makes breathing more difficult. The increase in exertion required to breathe can, in turn, result in excess sweating. Because feeding is a common form of activity in babies, this excess sweating is often closely associated with feeding, though any activity that causes an increase in the infant’s breathing rate can also cause increased sweat production. Excess blood flow to the lungs can also accelerate the infant’s metabolism, a side effect of which is increased sweating.

If you notice any of these signs in your baby or child, call your doctor right away. If your doctor notices these signs, you may be referred to a pediatric cardiologist.

About Dr. Rodriguez

Fred Rodriguez, MDFred Rodriguez, MD, is a pediatric cardiologist who practices pediatric cardiology at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Sibley Heart Center and adult congenital heart disease at the Emory Clinic and Emory University Hospital. Dr. Rodriguez earned his medical degree from the Louisiana State University at New Orleans School of Medicine, where he also completed his combined residency in both internal medicine and pediatrics. Following his residency, he completed a cardiology fellowship at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, with additional training in adult congenital heart disease. He is board certified in pediatrics, pediatric cardiology and internal medicine.

About the Congenital Heart Center of Georgia

The Congenital Heart Center of Georgia is a collaboration between Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory Healthcare. The Congenital Heart Center of Georgia is a comprehensive program for children and adults with congenital heart disease that provides a continuum of lifesaving care from before birth through adulthood. It is the first comprehensive congenital heart disease program in the South and one of the largest in the country. The program is led by Emory Healthcare cardiologist Wendy Book, MD, Robert Campbell, MD, chief of cardiac services and director of cardiology at Children’s Sibley Heart Center, and Brian Kogon, MD, chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery. To schedule an appointment, please call 404-778-7777.

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