CHD 101

The medical world is full of abbreviations, acronyms, and confusing terminology. Whether you’re newly diagnosed or have been in the CHD community for a while, it helps to know what terms to use and what they mean.

A diagnosis of a congenital heart defect comes with a whole host of acronyms and new medical terms to learn – CHD, ASD, VSD, HLHS, TAPVR, TGA, and the list goes on. Even the acronym CHD itself has multiple definitions – congenital heart defect, congenital heart disease, and coronary heart disease. Is there a difference?


Congenital:a condition present at birth
Congenital heart defect:an abnormal structure of the heart that can affect the way the heart works and how blood flows through the heart to the rest of the body.
Congenital heart disease:refers to the lifelong impact of being born with anomalies of the heart, whether structural (e.g. a ventricular septal defect) or electrical (e.g. Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome)
Coronary heart disease:refers to the narrowing of the coronary arteries due to plaque buildup. This is also known as acquired heart disease.

Types of Congenital Heart Defects:

There are many types of heart defects, with a lot of individual variations due to differences in anatomy. Congenital heart defects can be mild (e.g. a small hole in the heart) or critical (e.g. missing or deformed parts of the heart).

Congenital heart defects can impact different parts of the heart, including:

  • Septum: the wall of muscle that separates the heart into the right and left halves. In a normal heart, the septum separates the right and left halves of the upper chambers (atria) and lower chambers (ventricles) of the heart. CHDs like an atrial septal defect (hole in the septum between the upper chambers) or a ventricular septal defect (hole in the septum between the lower chambers).
  • Chambers: the “rooms” of the heart that fill with blood and pump it to the lungs and around the body. In a normal heart, there are two upper chambers (the right and left atrium) and two lower chambers (the right and left ventricle). In CHDs like Hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), one or more of the chambers doesn’t fully develop and is too small to function properly.
  • Heart valves: the “doors” that keep blood flowing in one direction through the heart. In a normal heart, each valve (door) opens to let blood flow into the next chamber and then closes so the blood can’t go backward. In CHDs like pulmonary valve stenosis, the valve can’t open completely so blood flow is restricted.
  • Veins and arteries: blood vessels that help deliver blood throughout the body. CHDs of the veins and arteries can involve narrowing of the blood vessel or blood vessels being connected to the wrong places.

Congenital Heart Disease:

CHD is a lifelong disease requiring ongoing, specialized care. Here are some of the other impacts of being born with heart defects:

  • Cardiac arrhythmias: refers to the problems with the heart’s electrical systems including Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, Long QT Syndrome, tachycardia (heart beats too fast), bradycardia (heart beats too slow), heart blocks, and others.
  • Neurodevelopmental or neurocognitive impacts: refers to the cognitive, adaptive, motor, speech, behavioral, and executive functioning deficits related to CHD, as well as an autism spectrum disorder and other psychiatric conditions
  • Other health problems related to CHD: kidney and liver complications, problems with lung function, pulmonary hypertension, stroke, heart failure, problems with growth and feeding, etc.
  • Critical congenital heart disease: Approximately one in four infants born with congenital heart disease are born with a form of critical congenital heart disease including coarctation of the aorta, double outlet right ventricle, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, interrupted aortic arch, single ventricle defects, Tetralogy of Fallot, transposition of the great arteries, total anomalous pulmonary venous return, tricuspid atresia, and truncus arteriosus. These infants will require surgery or intervention in order to survive.


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