Congenital (from birth) heart disease (CHD) is the most common birth defect, affecting eight in one thousand infants born each year. There are many different types of CHD. Most have to do with a heart that doesn’t develop like it should or with problems with the large blood vessels (the pulmonary artery, and/or aorta) connected to the heart.
A healthy heart beats about 100,000 times a day and pumps about five quarts of blood each minute or 75 gallons (284 liters) of blood every hour.
A normal heart has four chambers. The upper two chambers are the right and left atria. The lower two chambers are the right and left ventricles. Blood is pumped through the four heart chambers with the help of four heart valves—the tricuspid, pulmonary, mitral and aortic valves. The heart’s job is to supply the body with oxygen-rich blood. First it sends blood without any oxygen to the lungs to get oxygen. It then returns it to the heart where the blood containing oxygen will be pumped to other parts of the body.
Heart valves open when the heart pumps to allow blood to flow forward, and close quickly between heartbeats to make sure blood does not flow backward. Any problem with this normal flow will make it difficult for the heart to effectively pump the blood where it needs to go.
The tricuspid valve sits between the right upper chamber (right atrium) and the right lower chamber (right ventricle). The tricuspid valve directs blood flow from the right upper chamber to the right lower chamber.
The pulmonary valve directs blood flow from the right lower chamber (right ventricle) into the pulmonary artery, which splits into two arteries so that the blood from the body can get to both lungs.
The mitral valve sits between the left upper chamber (left atrium) and left lower chamber. The mitral valve directs blood flow from the left upper chamber into the left lower chamber.
The aortic valve directs blood from the left lower chamber (left ventricle) into the aorta. The aorta is the major blood vessel that leads from the left lower chamber to the rest of the body.