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Cardiology 101: Understanding the Different Types of Heart Defects

February 17, 2017
Published in: Heart

Types of Heart Defects

A healthy heart has arteries, valves, and chambers that are responsible for carrying blood throughout the body. When these components work as they should, blood is pumped in a circulatory pattern, through the heart, then to the lungs to obtain oxygen, back to the heart, and finally, throughout the body to deliver oxygen. If anything is amiss with the arteries, chambers, and valves, circulation can be impaired.

What is a Heart Defect?The Heart is Responsible for Pumping Blood throughout the Body

Heart defects are structural problems that arise due to abnormal formation of the heart or major blood vessels. There are at least 18 different types of recognized heart defects, with a variety of anatomic variations. Thankfully, recent developments in diagnosing and treating these issues makes it possible to repair most heart defects, even those that are deemed untreatable.

Common Types of Heart Defects

Sometimes when the heart is forming, errors occur, and the heart may not function correctly or efficiently. The most common defects include:

Aortic Valve Stenosis

Aortic Valve Stenosis occurs when valves from the heart to the body, that do not open and close, may leak blood. When this happens, blood that flows outward to the body may be trapped, which causes pressure to build up within the heart resulting in damage to the organ.

Atrial Septal Defect

Atrial Septal Defect is a hole in the wall that separates the upper two heart chambers. This defect enables oxygenated blood to leak into the oxygen-poor chambers in the heart.

Coarctation of the Aorta

Coarctation of the Aorta is a narrowing of the aorta that carries blood to the body. This malformation causes problems with the flow of blood where arteries branch out to distribute blood to separate vessels that supply blood to the upper and lower parts of the body. This condition can damage the heart or cause high blood pressure.

Complete Atrioventricular Canal Defect

Complete Atrioventricular Canal Defect is a large hole in the center of the heart where it is typically divided. This results in oxygenated blood mixing with blood that is oxygen-poor. The valves are then unable to correctly route blood from within the heart.

Illustration of a human heart

D-Transposition of the Great Arteries

In this condition, the two main arteries that carry blood from the heart are reversed. Disruption is unavoidable at this point because the normal blood-flow pattern cycle fails. This reduces or eliminates blood from flowing to the lungs for oxygenation or blood traveling to the body for circulation.

I-Transposition of the Great Arteries

This condition results in a double-reversal of the lower chambers of the heart and great arteries. It's less dangerous than the d-transposition because the body is still able to receive oxygen-rich blood and the lungs are still able to process oxygen-poor blood.

Ebstein's Anomaly

Ebstein's Anomaly is a malformation of the heart valve that doesn't close properly, to keep blood circulating in the right direction, which causes blood to leak back from the lower to upper chambers on the right side of the heart. Individuals with atrial septal defect are commonly affected by this condition.

Patent Ductus Arteriosis

Patent ductus arteriosis is an unclosed hole in the aorta. Fetal blood flow is oxygenated by the mother's body and doesn't need to be processed by the lungs. The ductus arteriosis allows the blood to skip circulation to the lungs before birth, but it is supposed to close once a baby is born. If the hole doesn't close, the blood may continue to skip this vital circulatory step.

Ventricular Septal Defect

This is a hole in the wall that separates the two lower chambers of the heart. In normal fetal development, the wall between the two lower chambers of the heart closes, so that by the time the baby is born, oxygen-rich blood and oxygen-poor blood don't mix. When this hole doesn't close, it can result in higher pressure within the heart or reduced oxygen reaching the body.

Pulmonary Valve Stenosis

The pulmonary valve allows blood to flow out from the heart, into the pulmonary artery, and into the lungs. This malformation involves a fused heart valve that doesn't fully open, reducing or preventing blood flow to the lungs.

Tetralogy of Fallot

This heart defect features four issues:

  • Excessively thickened muscle surrounding the lower right chamber
  • The aorta lies over the hole within the lower chambers
  • An obstruction occurs from the heart to the lungs
  • A hole between the lower chambers of the heart

Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Connection

In this condition, a defect in the veins leading from the lungs to the heart causes the blood to divert from the usual route. Instead, veins from the lungs attach to the heart abnormally and cause oxygenated blood to leak into the wrong chamber.

Truncus Arteriosus

Truncus arteriosus is a malformation that involves the formation of one large artery instead of two separate arteries to carry blood to the lungs and body. With only the one artery, the body has no designated path for blood to be enriched with oxygen in the lungs before returning to the body.

Single Ventricle Defects

Single ventricle defects are rare disorders that affect only one lower chamber within the heart. The affected chamber may be:

  • Missing a valve
  • Smaller
  • Undeveloped

Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome

This anomaly involves an underdeveloped left side of the heart. Holes in the artery and septum may not properly mature and close and the aorta and left ventricle may be too small.

Pulmonary Atresia/Intact Ventricular Septum

In this defect, the pulmonary valve doesn't exist, which causes the only blood to receive oxygenation to be blood diverted to the lungs from openings that are supposed to close during development.

Tricuspid Atresia

The absence of the tricuspid valve results in abnormal blood flow from the body to the heart. This ultimately results in the blood not being properly refilled with oxygen because it doesn't complete the healthy circulatory route.


Children born with heart defects today have better chances at having a normal life. As methods for diagnosing and treating these conditions continue to advance, outcomes will continue to improve. Each situation is different, so it's important to discuss specific conditions with a cardiologist to discuss available treatment options and expected results.

If you're experiencing any heart issues, Augusta Health Cardiology is here to help. If you're experiencing any signs of a heart attack, then you should immediately dial 9-1-1.