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Congenital Heart Disease (Adult)

Congenital heart disease (CHD) happens when the heart develops abnormally before you're born. It can mean the heart’s chambers, valves, blood vessels or electrical pathways have an irregular structure. Thanks to advances in heart care, most people born with CHD live long, healthy lives.

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What causes congenital heart disease (CHD)?

Congenital heart defects impact nearly 1% of babies born in the United States each year. About 1 in 4 of those babies have structural issues that are serious enough to require surgery within the first year of life.

CHD is a genetic disease, meaning it’s passed down in families. In fact, the presence of CHD in parents is the highest risk factor. That’s why it’s so important to be in tune with your family’s health history. When you turn to us for heart care, we’ll take the time to learn your personal and family health history and create a personalized heart health plan.

No matter what chapter of life you find yourself in, we're here to be a part of your heart care story with treatments, support and resources.

Cardiologist Eric Ewald, MD uses stethoscope to check the heart of a patient in Lowell General Hospital's Heart and Vascular inpatient unit.
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CHD comes in many forms, and it usually requires a lifetime of care and monitoring. It can lead to conditions like abnormal heart rhythm or irregular blood flow. CHD is often linked to other genetic conditions, including:

DiGeorge syndrome
Down syndrome
Turner syndrome

Mild cases of CHD don't typically show obvious symptoms. That’s why many people aren’t diagnosed with the condition until they’re adults. However, the most common symptom of CHD is a whooshing, whistling or rumbling sound called a heart murmur. Your doctor can hear a heart murmur when they’re using a stethoscope.

Talk to your doctor right away if you notice any of these more serious symptoms of congenital heart disease:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Skin or lips that look blue


We want to understand who you are as a person, not just a number in a system. That’s why we take the time to understand your symptoms, health history and wellness goals. We use the latest cardiovascular imaging techniques and technologies to better understand your heart and blood vessels, including:

  • Angiogram: A series of X-rays that allow us to look at your heart’s structures
  • Cardiac CT scans: Evaluates blood vessels and coronary arteries for any signs of blockages or narrowing
  • Catheterization: A test that involves inserting a catheter through the arm or leg and into the coronary arteries to better evaluate heart function
  • Echocardiogram: An ultrasound, but for the heart
  • Exercise “stress” echocardiogram: We’ll watch how your heart changes while you exercise
  • Nuclear cardiology: Small amounts of radioactive material can give us a big-picture view of how the heart is functioning
  • Chest X-ray: Looks at the anatomy of your heart

Your doctor may pair cardiovascular imaging tests with these other diagnostics to evaluate your oxygen levels and heart function:

  • Ambulatory heart monitoring: Minimally invasive devices, like a Holter monitor, can track your heart function over the course of a day or 2
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG): This test measures your heart’s electrical activity and tracks abnormal rhythms
  • Oxygen monitoring: Used if your oxygen levels are low


Congenital heart disease requires lifelong care. We’re committed to being your reliable, compassionate partner through all stages of life. Our goal for anyone with CHD is to get ahead of complications or prevent them before they begin.

That means staying in touch with your doctor for regular check-ins and creating an action plan for when your health changes. The sooner we can identify those changes, the sooner you can get back to the things in life you enjoy most.

Heart catheterization

Sometimes, the structural defect from congenital heart disease doesn’t need treatment, or it may heal on its own. If the irregularity is serious, we may need to perform a procedure to repair your heart.

That usually means heart catheterization, where we operate using a tube that’s thinner than a strand of spaghetti, or open heart surgery. 

Nurse Practitioner, Natalie Bonvie-Hill, listening to patient's heart with a stethoscope during a cardiovascular appointment at Tufts Medical Center.
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Cardiologist Eric Ewald, MD talks to patient in Lowell General Hospital's Heart and Vascular inpatient unit (D4Med).
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