What is congenital heart disease? As we conclude American Heart Month, the Chief of Cardiology at Jersey Shore University Medical Center fills us in on what's missing in the heart.

Dr. Dawn Calderon says congenital heart disease is something you're born with and explains it simply as a hole in the heart.

"Congenital Heart Disease is a structural problem," Calderon said. "Sometimes different parts of the heart are missing or there's holes in the heart or a wrong valve was put in place of where a different valve is supposed to be."

Calderon says it's a structural problem someone with the disease is born with that may include a hole in the heart.

"It's not a hole that's outside the heart that's going to cause bleeding but it's something that's internal into a three-dimensional structure," Calderon said. "It forms from a genetic defect. Most of them we can link to genetics, sometimes it runs in families but sometimes it doesn't."

"We can often identify it by the echoes in the ultrasounds that are done when the mom is pregnant," Calderon said. "Usually the most serious ones get detected early and can be treated as soon as the baby is born."

Treatment, she says, varies from person to person.

"The vast majority of them (cases) are treated with surgery because the surgeons need to go in and literally spackle up the hole," Calderon said.

In other cases," many of them will be on medications for heart rhythm treatment, others will require pacemakers, others surgery down the road to replace parts that may be worn out but the vast majority of people born with this now survive and live really healthy lives."

She says modern medicine has developed over the years to where doctors know how to more effectively and directly treat the issue.

"The vast majority of people who are born with congenital heart problems will live a full healthy life, a very productive life," Calderon said.

She says even though CHD is often caused by genetics, that doesn't mean a woman who gives birth later in life will pass it along to their child.

"Women with congenital heart problems can often live very normal lives, have children and have children born with healthy hearts," Calderon said.

Calderon, says having CHD doesn't necessarily put you at a higher risk for additional heart problems.

"It doesn't put you at an increased risk but what I tell my patients is it doesn't give you a free pass," Calderon said. "You have to do all the right things like exercise, watch your diet and monitor your blood pressure."

She says in some cases people with CHD develop scoliosis or migraine headaches.

Calderon stresses anyone with the disease to closely monitor their symptoms and consult a doctor for any irregularities adding that you shouldn't feel you can't grow up to live out your dreams.

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