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What is the Difference Between Congenital and Acquired Heart Defects?

Not all heart diseases are the same, and there are some vast differences between congenital heart defects and acquired heart defects. Discover what you need to know about these different heart defects.

Main Differences Between Congenital and Acquired Heart Defects

Congenital heart defects are present at birth. This defect comes from an abnormality in the development of the heart in the embryogenesis stage. There are a lot of steps the body takes when forming the heart into an organ, and if the slightest detail goes wrong, it can result in a congenital heart defect. No two cases of congenital heart defects are identical, and there are specific genetic syndromes with higher chances of having a defect, such as Trisomy 21.

Acquired heart defects are something a person would acquire over time. In other words, these problems develop after a baby is born, rather than during embryogenesis. These are defects that most people think of when they imagine “having heart problems,” and are more commonly seen in older adults. Heart attacks, angina, and excessive calcium build-up on the heart valves are the most common types of adult acquired heart disease. Acquired heart disease is generally rare in children because it takes many years to evolve. Although rarely seen in the United States, rheumatic carditis (acquired heart damage associated with a strep infection) is quite common in developing countries. Kawasaki disease is one of the most common causes of acquired childhood heart disease in developed countries.

Are there Different Signs and Symptoms of Each Defect?

Congenital heart defect symptoms are usually noticed very early in a baby’s life and can even be prenatally detected. If a baby has a low oxygen reading from a pulse ox screening or abnormal heart sound (like a murmur), there is a higher chance they could have a heart defect. Other symptoms include poor feeding ability, slow weight gain, and skin color change from head to toe.

Acquired heart defects are much more sneaky in the sense that they can mimic other infections
or illnesses. For example, rheumatic carditis is usually diagnosed after a child has strep throat.
Kawasaki disease is diagnosed after a minimum of five days of fever and after other causes have been ruled out. Often times, these children have a lower exercise tolerance.

Treatments for Congenital and Acquired Heart Defects

Babies with congenital heart defects usually require surgery to fix their anatomical problem. Children with acquired heart defects, depending on what they have, will be treated with either surgical procedures or medical therapy.

Sibley Heart Center Cardiology treats both congenital and acquired heart defects, and we invite you to visit our blog or explore our library of research resources.

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