How is congenital heart disease treated?

Although many children who have congenital heart defects do not need treatment, some do.

Cardiac surgeons are heart doctors who treat heart defects. These doctors repair heart defects using surgery.

The treatment your child receives depends on the type and severity of his or her heart defect. Other factors include your child's age, size, and general health. Some children who have complex congenital heart defects may need several catheter or surgical procedures over a period of years, or they may need to take medicines for years.

The doctor may perform a catheter procedure to close a hole in the heart and repair a valve. Catheters are thin flexible tubes that are inserted into a vein to access the heart.

  • For a septal defect, the doctor inserts a catheter through a vein and threads it into the heart to the septum. The catheter has a tiny, umbrella-like device, or patch, folded up inside it. When the catheter reaches the septum, the device is pushed out of the catheter. It's positioned so that it plugs the hole between the atria. The device is secured in place and the catheter is then withdrawn from the body.

  • For pulmonary valve stenosis, the doctor inserts a catheter through a vein and threads it into the heart to the pulmonary valve. A tiny balloon at the end of the catheter is quickly inflated to push apart the leaflets, or "doors," of the valve. The balloon is then deflated and the catheter and balloon are withdrawn. This procedure can be used to repair any narrowed valve in the heart.

A child may need open-heart surgery if his or her heart defect can't be fixed using a catheter procedure. Sometimes, one surgery can repair the defect completely. If that's not possible, the child may need more surgeries over months or years to fix the problem. Open-heart surgery may be done to:

  • Close holes in the heart with stitches or with a patch
  • Repair or replace heart valves 
    Widen arteries or openings to heart valves
  • Repair complex defects, such as problems with where the blood vessels near the heart are located or how they developed