Adults With Congenital Heart Defects: When To See A Doctor

With over 35,000 babies born each year with a congenital heart defect, it has become the most common birth defect in the United States. Due to advances in medical care of this type of birth defect, more adults than ever are living with congenital heart defects (CHD). According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 1.4 million adults living with CHD. Many of these adults receive ongoing care for their defect. Besides seeing a cardiologist who specializes in adults with CHD, they should pay close attention to their health and know what symptoms require a trip to the doctor.

When They Notice Fluid Retention

If an adult with CHD is retaining fluid, they should see a doctor as soon as they can. They may notice swelling in their legs, ankles, or abdomen, which is an indication of a type of fluid retention called edema. When fluid starts building up in the lungs, it can cause shortness of breath. These are all signs of congestive heart failure (CHF), meaning the pumping action of the heart is not meeting the body's needs. Other symptoms of CHF besides fluid retention and shortness of breath include:

  • Fatigue
  • Inability to exercise
  • Not being able to breathe deeply while lying down

For adults with CHD who have had a surgery called the Fontan, fluid retention could indicate a problem with the liver. When there is any type of abnormal fluid retention, an adult with CHD should see a doctor or their cardiologist.

When They Notice an Arrhythmia

Most people who have a normal heart rarely pay attention to their beating heart. For an adult who has CHD, however, this is something they need to pay attention to. If they notice their heart is beating too quickly, they may have something called tachycardia which means their heart is beating more than 100 beats per minute. On the other hand, if their heart is beating at a rate of less than 60 beats per minute, they are experiencing bradycardia. Some other common heart rhythm issues faced by adults with CHD include:

  • Atrial Flutter
  • Atrial Fibrillation
  • Sinoatrial Node Dysfunction
  • AV Block

If an adult with CHD notices their heart is not beating as it should, it could indicate a serious problem. They might need a pacemaker, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), or certain medications to help their heart beat at a regular rate. If the arrhythmia is accompanied by dizziness or a feeling of being lightheaded, it may require emergency room services. Check with a place like Van Wert County Hospital for more information.


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