Heart Health

Updated 24 August 2017

Signs and symptoms of congenital heart defects

The type and severity of the actual congenital heart defect will determine what symptoms and signs the child displays.

Many children have no symptoms at all, with the problem only being discovered in adulthood.

On the other hand, some severe defects may not be correctable, and the baby may not survive beyond infancy. Milder defects may go undetected until a complication arises, or until the child becomes active enough to make the congenital heart defect (CHD) apparent.

There is thus no set pattern of symptoms, but any or all of the following may be found at different stages of the child’s life, and should make one suspect CHD:

  • No symptoms at all – in very minor defects
  • Cyanosis (blue tinge to the skin)
  • Sudden episodes of rapid breathing
  • Difficulty with feeding – shortness of breath when suckling
  • Poor growth
  • Dizzy spells/fainting
  • Unusual or inappropriate tiredness
  • Chest pain
  • Heart murmurs
  • Heart failure
  • Pulmonary hypertension – raised pressure in the arteries of the lungs
  • The presence of other non-cardiac abnormalities – problems having associated CHD

(The Heart and Stroke Foundation SA/Health24, updated January 2009)


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