Congenital Heart Defects & Diseases | MedStar Health

Types and causes of heart abnormalities that are present before birth

Congenital heart diseases are the most common type of birth defect, affecting eight out of every 1,000 newborns. One in 50 adults has a congenital heart defect. Many defects are easily fixed, although others are complex and may require advanced care throughout a person’s life. We partner with the Children’s National Health System to treat adults with congenital heart defects in our Adult Congenital Heart Center.

Learn more about the Adult Congenital Heart Center.

Congenital heart diseases can affect the walls of the heart, the valves inside the heart, and the arteries and veins that carry blood to the heart or body. Many congenital heart defects are diagnosed before or shortly after birth, but some may not cause symptoms for years.


We don’t always know why someone is born with a congenital heart defect. Defects can run in families, so a parent with congenital heart disease may be more likely than others to have a child with the same heart abnormality.

Other factors that can increase the risk include:

  • Genetic and chromosomal syndromes, such as Down syndrome, Marfan syndrome, Trisomy 13, and Turner’s syndrome

  • Taking certain medications, drinking alcohol, or smoking during pregnancy

  • Viral infections, such as rubella (German measles), during the first trimester of pregnancy


Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.

Chest X-ray

Chest X-rays use a small dose of radiation to create pictures of the structures inside the chest, including the lungs, heart, and chest wall.

Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan

The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.


An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets, and computer technology to create images of your heart and blood vessels.

Stress Tests

Stress tests are used to assess how your heart works during physical activity. There are several types of stress tests, including treadmill or bike stress tests, nuclear stress tests, stress echocardiograms, and chemically induced stress tests.

Transesophageal Echocardiogram (TEE) 

Transesophageal echocardiogram allows us to take very detailed images of your heart structure from a probe in your esophagus.


Our heart and vascular teams work together and with other specialties to develop and implement individualized plans to treat a wide variety of congenital heart diseases. This could include lifestyle modifications, medication, or more advanced treatments.

Congenital Heart Disease Treatments

Treatments for congenital heart conditions range from atrial septal defect and patent foramen ovale closures to cardiac ablations, heart valve replacements, and heart transplants.

Additional information

Adult Congenital Heart Center

When you’re born with a heart problem, you may need complex care throughout your life. Our experts tailor this specialized care to your unique needs.

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