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Complex Congenital Heart Disease


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If your baby is born with a heart defect (congenital), it means there are problems with their heart structure that prevent blood from flowing normally. Usually, the defect affects the heart valves or blood vessels around the heart.

Common types of complex congenital heart disease include:

  • Coarctation of the aorta: when the aorta (the main artery that carries blood away from the heart to the body) narrows and disrupts blood flow to the body
  • Complete atrioventricular canal defect (CAVC): a large hole in the center of the heart that affects blood flow through all four chambers
  • Septal defect: a hole in the septum (wall that divides the heart) that affects blood flow in the upper chambers (atrial) or the lower chambers (ventricular) of the heart
  • Valve defect: a problem with the heart valves, such as a valve that doesn’t open or close completely

In many cases, children with complex congenital heart disease don’t have symptoms. If there are signs, they can include:

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Bluish hue to the skin (cyanosis)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Poor eating habits


Prenatal Ultrasound
Sometimes doctors can diagnose a congenital heart defect during a routine prenatal ultrasound during pregnancy. This allows you and your baby’s care team to discuss possible treatments.

Physical Exam
The physical exam will include a check of all vital signs, including respiratory (breathing) rate, pulse, body temperature, and blood pressure. The doctor may suspect a defect if they hear a heart murmur while listening to your baby’s heartbeat.

Imaging Tests
Your child’s doctor may order noninvasive imaging tests to get a closer look at the function and structure of your child’s heart. Tests may include a chest X-ray and:

  • Echocardiogram: Uses sound waves to create a video of the heart.
  • Electrocardiogram: Measures the electrical activity of the heart.


Catheterization Procedures
These minimally invasive procedures require tiny incisions and offer less pain and a quicker recovery than open surgery. The doctor inserts a catheter (thin, flexible tube) into a vein or artery and guides it to the heart to repair the heart problem. Catheterization can be used to diagnose and treat the defect using a single procedure.

If the defect can’t be repaired using a minimally invasive procedure, your child may need surgery to correct the heart defect.

Ongoing Monitoring
Congenital heart problems often require long-term or even lifelong monitoring. Your child may need checkups with a heart specialist, routine exams with the pediatrician, prescribed medicines, and other approaches.

Why Choose UHealth?

Comprehensive, family-centered care. We offer comprehensive, interdisciplinary care and management of complex medical conditions, as well as the continual involvement of parents and families. Our team spearheaded family-centered care as a standard for pediatric critical care, involving parents and families in our doctors' daily rounds to provide updates on status and progress.

Treating young patients from all over the world. Our critical care specialists have significant experience taking care of a culturally diverse patient population. Children and their families come from all over the world to receive quality care, compassionately delivered by outstanding pediatric specialists and other skilled medical professionals within our facilities.

Top-notch care in an academic health system. Backed by one of the nation’s top universities, our team uses the latest technologies and research-driven expertise to provide your child with superior, personalized care and the best outcomes possible. We’re the only academic health center in South Florida with developmental and behavioral pediatric specialists on staff.

Commitment to research and education. As part of a university-based health system, our critical care team is involved in several clinical trials at any given time. Our department houses a three-year fellowship program in pediatric critical care. Our ongoing involvement in research and training the next generation of pediatric critical care providers allows us to offer the latest innovative, emerging treatments more quickly and safely than other facilities.

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