Adult Congenital Heart Disease

Advanced care for a longer life

Congenital heart disease refers to heart defects people are born with, which don't always require medication or treatment. When they do, the heart specialists at Novant Health specialize in less invasive solutions that reduce the risk of complications and speed up recovery times.

Find a Provider
Location Finder

FAQs about Adult Congenital Heart Disease

Adult congenital heart disease describes conditions related to structural heart problems, or defects, that were present at birth and require treatment during adulthood. These can include holes, leaky valves and other issues that can lead to arrhythmias and other conditions.

The likelihood of being born with a heart defect depends on the genes you inherit and conditions while in the womb, including:

  • Alcohol or tobacco use
  • Pre-existing conditions, including diabetes
  • Infection by specific viruses, including rubella and the flu
  • Use of certain medications, including anti-acne and anti-seizure drugs

You may never experience symptoms related to a congenital heart defect as an adult. However, there are common symptoms that often arise, including:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling, especially in the legs and feet
  • Faster or irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Enlarged heart

Depending on the type of congenital heart defect, adult congenital heart disease can lead to:

  • Increased risk of heart failure
  • Endocarditis, an infection in the heart
  • Damage to blood vessel walls
  • Certain types of strokes

Conditions Treated

An atrial septal defect is a hole between the left and right atria, or the upper chambers of your heart. The defect makes it harder for your heart to pump the blood needed for the rest of your body. It is usually repaired by the time you reach school age.

A ventricular septal defect is a hole between the left and right ventricles, or lower chambers of your heart. A small hole may not cause any symptoms, but a medium-sized to larger hole can lead to heart disease if not treated.

Patent foramen ovale describes a condition in which a flap controlling the flow of blood between the atria, does not close properly. When this occurs, your provider may recommend a surgical repair.

Treatment Options

Your cardiologist might recommend tests to determine how well your heart is working, including:
  • Electrocardiograms (ECGs or EKGs)
  • Echocardiograms
  • Chest X-rays
  • Angiograms
  • Cardiac catheterization (also called ‘interventional" or "therapeutic" catheterizations)
A closeup of a computer monitor, which displays, a patients imaging results.

If medications and lifestyle changes are not having the desired effect, your cardiologist may recommend you be evaluated for surgery to If standard open surgery poses too great a risk, you may still be a good candidate for a less invasive procedure involving smaller incisions, less bleeding and quicker recovery times.

Learn More

A Novant Health team member is dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) looking over at another team member during surgery..

To help alleviate the symptoms of a congenital heart defect, your provider may recommend medications and lifestyle changes, including exercise, physical therapy and dietary changes. Sometimes, these can also prevent or delay complications, including chronic heart disease.

A Novant Health pharmacist is counting medication pills as they fill a patients prescription.

Adult Congenital Heart Disease Specialists

Three physicians performing surgery.

General cardiologist

When your primary care provider concludes that your symptoms indicate a heart-related condition, they'll usually refer you to a general cardiologist to perform more in-depth tests and exams.

Interventional cardiologist

An interventional cardiologist has completed more extensive medical training than a general cardiologist. They can perform specific heart-related surgical procedures, including those often used to treat adult congenital heart disease.

Cardiothoracic surgeon

A cardiothoracic surgeon specializes in heart surgery. The cardiac surgeons at Novant Health have decades of experience and can handle even the most complicated conditions as part of a personalized care plan.

Nuclear cardiologist

A nuclear cardiologist is trained in advanced imaging techniques that determine how well your heart is functioning. This includes blood flow, the size of your heart, and the potential for or aftereffects of a heart attack (myocardial infarction).

Clinical cardiac electrophysiologist

A clinical cardiac electrophysiologist is a heart care specialist focused on diagnosing and treating heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias). They're trained in interventional and surgical procedures.