Congenital heart defects

Mar 20, 2010 at 8:59 p.m. ET

The number of children born with a congenital heart defect each year – 35,000 – would fill Chicago's Wrigley Field to maximum capacity…with standing room only! With these staggering statistics, it's important to know your family's health history to help determine whether or not your child may be at risk for congenital heart disease.

Doctor listening to girl's heart

Little Known Facts About Congenital Heart Disease

  • It is the most common birth defect.
  • It affects 1 in 100 newborns each year.
  • It is the number one cause of death from birth defects during the first year of life.
  • The first symptom of a heart defect can also be the last.

A "Silent Killer"

One example of a heart defect that affects one of every 5,000 people, typically children and young adults, is Long QT Syndrome (LQTS). LQTS is a disorder of the electrical system of the heart, which can be genetic or acquired. Electrical defects predispose an affected person to a very fast heart rhythm. The rhythm is too fast for the heart to beat effectively, so the blood flow to the brain decreases. This causes the blood pressure to fall rapidly, causing a sudden loss of consciousness – even death.

Signs and symptoms of LQTS include:

  • Loss of consciousness (fainting) during or immediately after exercise
  • Loss of consciousness when startled
  • Consistent or unusual chest pain and/or shortness of breath during exercise
  • Family members with sudden, unexplained death
  • Family members with known diagnosis of LQTS

"In too many cases, the first symptom of LQTS can often be the last. We want families to be aware of this disorder and to examine family histories to see if they are at risk," said Robert Campbell, M.D., Chief Medical Officer of Sibley Heart Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

Hundreds of children and young adults in the United States die from LQTS every year. Increasing awareness of this often genetic disease can help save many lives. Fortunately, most of these deaths are preventable if the condition is recognized and treated.

What Should a Parent Do If a Child Exhibits Symptoms of LQTS?

Parents should ask their pediatrician, and tell the doctor about their child's symptoms and their family history. The pediatrician may refer the family to a pediatric cardiologist for further evaluation.

Provided by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

About Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, one of the leading pediatric healthcare systems in the country, is pleased to offer summer tips for parents and their children. Click on the links for more information. Children's experts are also available for interviews pertaining to these topics, as well as additional pediatric health care issues. Please contact Children's 24-hour, 7-day-a-week media pager at 404-570-9717 to reach a public relations representative immediately. Children's is a not-for-profit organization that benefits from the generous philanthropic and volunteer support of our community. Operating three hospitals with more than half a million patient visits annually, Children's is recognized for excellence in cancer, cardiac, neonatal, orthopaedic and transplant services, as well as many other pediatric specialties. Visit our Web site at or call 404-250-KIDS to learn more about Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.