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Adult Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart disease is a type of defect in one or more structures of the heart or blood vessels that occur before birth.  The heart structures, or vessels, do not form as they should during pregnancy, while the fetus is developing in the uterus.

congenital heart disease

In the United States:

  • They affect about 8 to 10 out of every 1,000 children. Congenital heart defects may produce symptoms at birth, during childhood and sometimes not until adulthood.
  • 800,000 adults in the United States have grown into adulthood with congenital heart disease. This number increases by about 20,000 each year.
  • Adult congenital heart disease is not uncommon. 1 in 150 adults are expected to have some form of congenital heart disease.

Symptoms of Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart defects may be diagnosed before birth, right after birth, during childhood or not until adulthood. It is possible to have a defect and no symptoms at all. In adults, if symptoms of congenital heart disease are present, they may include:

  • shortness of breath
  • poor exercise tolerance

Diagnosis of Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart disease is diagnosed by a murmur on a physical exam and several diagnostic tests:

Treatment of Congenital Heart Disease

Treatment is based on the severity of the congenital heart disease. Some mild heart defects do not require any treatment.

Others can be treated with medications, invasive procedures or surgery. Most adults with congenital heart disease should be monitored by a congenital heart specialist and may need to take precautions to prevent endocarditis (an infection of the heart) throughout their life.

Surgical Treatment Options

How to find a doctor if you have adult congenital heart disease

Doctors vary in quality due to differences in training and experience; hospitals differ in the number of services available. The more complex your medical problem, the greater these differences in quality become and the more they matter.

Clearly, the doctor and hospital that you choose for complex, specialized medical care will have a direct impact on how well you do. To help you make this choice, read more about our Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute outcomes.

The Center for Adult Congenital Heart Disease in the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute is a specialized center involving a multi-disciplinary group of specialists, including cardiologists, cardiac surgeons and nurses from Cardiovascular Medicine, Pediatric Cardiology, Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery, Cardiothoracic Surgery, Diagnostic Radiology, Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine, and Transplantation Center, who provide a comprehensive approach to diagnosing and treating adult congenital heart disease.

You may also use our MyConsult second opinion consultation using the Internet.

For younger patients with congenital heart disease:

See: About Us to learn more about the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute.


If you need more information, click here to contact us, chat online with a nurse or call the Miller Family Heart and Vascular Institute Resource & Information Nurse at 216.445.9288 or toll-free at 866.289.6911. We would be happy to help you.

Becoming a Patient

Treatment Options

Treatment Guides

Diagnostic Tests

Congenital heart disease is diagnosed by a murmur on a physical exam and several diagnostic tests:



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Our outcomes speak for themselves. Please review our facts and figures and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to ask.



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Reviewed: 06/15

Talk to a Nurse: Mon. - Fri., 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m. (ET)

Call a Heart & Vascular Nurse locally 216.445.9288 or toll-free 866.289.6911.

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This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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