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Congenital Heart Defects in Adults

Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital heart defects are problems with the heart that are present at birth. Most of the time congenital heart defects are found and treated during childhood. In some cases a diagnosis isn’t made until adulthood. Learn more about Adult Congenital Heart Disease Clinic for children to adult.

For adults, the congenital heart problem is always there although it can often be made much better as a result of surgery or treatment with a catheter-based therapy.

Since congenital heart disease is a lifelong problem, it is important for patients with any congenital heart defect to receive long-term care. UI Heart and Vascular Center is the only facility in Iowa to follow children with congenital heart disease into adulthood and are able to treat patients with chronic conditions who might need more serious treatments like transplant or catheterization procedures.

Types of Congenital Heart Defects:

  • Aortic stenosis
  • Atrial Septal Defects (ASD) is a hole in the wall or septum that separates the heart’s upper chambers or atria
  • Arrhythmias or other heart rhythm problems
  • Coarctation of the aorta
  • Ebstein’s anomaly
  • Pulmonary artery stenosis
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Single ventricle defects
  • Tetralogy of Fallot
  • Ventricular Septal Defects (VSD) is a hole in the wall or septum that separates the heart’s lower chambers or ventricles


  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Low tolerance to exercise
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of body tissues or organs (edema)

Risk Factors

There is no single cause of congenital heart disease. Some conditions are inherited and others result from a combination of factors such as inheritance and environment. Researchers at UI Hospitals & Clinics are trying to learn the causes and work to prevent the problems.

How We Treat Congenital Heart Defects in Adults


If your doctor thinks you have a congenital heart defect, he or she will first perform a physical exam and listen to your heart with a stethoscope.

If your doctor hears an abnormal beating, he or she may wish to diagnose the issue with one or more of the following tests:

  • Cardiac MRI: Special X-ray that looks at the sizes of different parts of your heart
  • Chest x-ray: X-ray of the chest will allow your doctor to evaluate your chest and lungs
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): A test that easily and painlessly measures the electrical activity of the heart.
  • Electrophysiology (EP) study, or Intracardiac electrophysiology (EPS): A study involving placing wire electrodes in the heart to measure electrical activity The procedure is done in a hospital laboratory by an electrophysiologist, technicians, and nurses.
  • Exercise stress test (treadmill tests): A test that is given while you walk on a treadmill. This test is used to see if exercise has an effect on your heart.
  • Holter or event monitor: A monitor that is usually worn for 24-48 hours while recording your heart’s activity.
  • Nuclear stress test: A test to measure the blood flow to the heart during rest and stress. You may be given medications or might exercise on a treadmill so your heart function can be measured under stress.

Treatment Options

Treatment depends on the problem. Sometimes monitoring (such as regular checkups) may be recommended, with no additional treatment. Medication or surgery might be necessary in more severe cases. Your doctor might recommend the following:

  • Atrial septal defect (ASD) and patent foramen ovale (PFO) closure
  • Electrophysiology (pacemakers and defibrillators)
  • Heart transplant or lung transplant
    • Severe forms of congenital heart defects may need more serious treatment. Some severe congenital heart defects can be repaired with one or more operations while others cannot. Heart transplantation or heart/lung transplantation are sometimes needed even after a successful repair of the heart performed during childhood.
  • Medications: a wide variety of medicines are available to make sure that you receive treatment that is personalized for you.
  • Surgical procedures: UI Heart and Vascular Center cardiac surgeons perform all operations for congenital heart disease. Our cardiac team includes surgeons who specialize in adult congenital heart disease to provide the best possible outcomes for our patients.

    Some conditions cause high blood pressure in the lungs and permanent changes in the walls of the lung blood vessels. These changes would not improve after heart transplantation as the transplanted heart would fail. In this case, the lungs must be transplanted with the heart.

    Arrange an Appointment

    Schedule an appointment or get a second opinion. Same day appointments are available and new patients do not need a referral.

    • 1-319-356-7102
    • MyChart
      You can request an appointment online using My Chart. You can also use MyChart to contact your care team, find the results of tests, and renew certain prescriptions.

    Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA) Accreditation

    University of Iowa is proud to have earned accreditation from the Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA), a nationwide organization focused on connecting patients, family members, and healthcare providers to form a community of support and a network of experts with knowledge of congenital heart disease.

    ACHA Comprehensive Care Center logo

    Care Team