Congenital heart defects are structural problems with the heart, or with the blood vessels surrounding it, that are present at birth. They can range in severity from "simple" congenital heart defects (holes between chambers of the heart) to severe malformations in the heart's chambers or valves.
The Adult Congenital Heart Disease (ACHD) Program addresses the health needs of adults who were born with heart defects, whether their conditions were treated when they were children or diagnosed in adulthood.
Our program bridges pediatric and adult cardiac care to provide seamless and comprehensive care for:
- Adult patients treated during childhood for a congenital heart defect
- Adults with newly diagnosed congenital heart disease
- Older children (ages 16 to 18) with congenital heart disease who are ready to transition to adult care
Specialized expertise and services include:
- Advanced imaging for accurate diagnosis and treatment planning
- Medical management by adult and pediatric cardiologists with extensive experience in ACHD
- Access to the full range of advanced surgical and interventional treatment options for adult disease
Our expert interdisciplinary services
- Accurate and complete diagnosis, including:
- Physical exam and review of complete medical history
- Thorough review of family history and genetic testing by geneticists with expertise in cardiovascular medicine
- Diagnostic imaging and catheterization, which may include electrocardiogram, chest X-ray, echocardiogram, cardiac catheterization and angiography, MRI and CT scanning, Holter recording, and stress testing
- Blood testing for patients with cyanosis and single ventricle hearts treated by Fontan procedure.
- Medical management of patients who have congenital heart disease or who have undergone surgical repairs, such as Fontan surgery, valve operations, or other procedures.
- Interventional and therapeutic cardiac catheterizations.
- Open and minimally invasive surgery to repair congenital heart defects diagnosed in adulthood, or re-repair of defects originally repaired in infancy or childhood.
- Comprehensive wrap-around services such as prenatal testing and genetic counseling, high-risk obstetrical care, and fetal echocardiography.
- Referral to our Dartmouth-Hitchcock (D-H) specialist network for non-cardiac complications of ACHD.
The importance of continuity of care
Because of advancements in treatment, there are now more adults than children living with congenital heart disease. Lifelong follow-up care is important for many reasons, including:
- Congenital heart defects may increase the risk of heart rhythm disorders, pulmonary hypertension or congestive heart failure.
- Anticoagulants may be necessary to prevent clots from obstructing implanted valves or conduits, or causing stroke.
- Women who wish to become pregnant need to understand any special health needs that should be addressed before or during pregnancy or even after delivery.
- Some forms of congenital heart disease are more likely to be passed on to children. Genetic testing and counseling may be appropriate.