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Adult Congenital Heart Program

Congenital Heart Defects in Adults

What is a congenital heart defect?

Congenital means existing at birth. Congenital heart defects are problems with the heart's structure and are the most common type of birth defect. Generally, these kinds of birth defects include:

  • Holes in the heart
  • Abnormal or missing heart valves
  • Abnormal or missing chambers of the heart
  • Abnormal or missing vessels (veins and arteries) that carry blood to or from the heart

Many heart defects are found very early—sometimes even before a child is born. Others, however, are not discovered until an older child or adult begins to have symptoms of a problem. Whether treated shortly after birth or decades after, those with heart disease or congenital defects often need specialized, lifelong cardiac care.

Heart defects most commonly treated at UMMC include:

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The adult congenital heart program at UMMC works closely with the Children’s of Mississippi congenital heart program to help older children transition into adult care.


Symptoms of congenital heart problems

A person can be diagnosed with a heart defect very early in life or later, as growth and aging naturally change the body’s structure and functionality. University Heart doctors can use a variety of tests to identify heart defects and to track any changes over time.
Symptoms of heart defects in adults can include:

  • Poor circulation
  • Dizziness or light-headedness
  • Swelling of limbs, abdomen, and veins in the neck
  • Palpitations (irregular heart beat)
  • Heart murmur
  • Chest pain*
  • Shortness of breath, rapid breathing*
  • Fatigue, tiredness*

*Chest pain, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, and fatigue are also common symptoms of a heart attack. If you suspect a heart attack, the best chance of survival and recovery is to call 911 immediately.

Many people may have no apparent symptoms. Only a physician can diagnose a congenital heart problem, so if you or a loved one does develop symptoms, seeing a doctor is very important.

Diagnosis of congenital heart defects

Patients benefit from UMMC’s technologically advanced facilities, leading-edge research, and a variety of specialists who work together to diagnose and treat heart defects.

At UMMC, we identify congenital heart problems using:

  • Physical exam
    Listening to the heart, measuring pulse
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)
    Tracking and graphing the heart’s electrical movements
  • Pulse oximetry
    Using light to measure levels of oxygen in the blood
  • Echocardiography (“Echo”)
    Using ultrasound to create still and moving images of the heart
  • Chest X-ray
    Creating images of the heart’s structure using x-ray
  • Cardiac computed tomography (Cardiac CT, CT scan)
    Creating 3-D images of the heart’s structure using x-ray and computer imaging
  • Cardiac MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
    Creating still and moving images of the heart using radio waves and magnets
  • Cardiac catheterization (“Heart cath”)
    Examining the heart’s functions and structure from the inside

Physical exams can be done during a regular checkup with your doctor, but advanced testing to diagnose a heart problem must done by cardiac specialists.


Treatment of congenital heart defects

The specialists at UMMC are skilled at treating heart problems in newborns, children, and adults. Each patient is unique, but common treatments for congenital heart defects include:

  • Regular checkups
  • Diet, nutrition counseling
  • Exercise
  • Medicine
  • Surgery
  • Mental health counseling, support
  • Breathing therapy
  • Implanted devices

We work with patients and their primary care providers to offer specialized care and support through all stages of life. And as part of the state’s only academic medical center, we offer a wide variety of prevention, diagnosis, treatment and management options.