Congenital Heart Defects Special Needs Factsheet
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Congenital Heart Defects Special Needs Factsheet

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD

What Teachers Should Know

Congenital heart defects develop in fetuses early in pregnancy, causing one abnormality or a combination of abnormalities in the structure of the heart. Some of the more common defects are:

  • holes in the walls between the heart's chambers
  • abnormal heart valves
  • abnormalities in the blood vessels entering or leaving the heart

Congenital heart defects can range from mild to severe. Some may cause serious symptoms at birth, requiring intensive hospital care. Other defects may not be diagnosed until the teen or even adult years.

Most kids and teens with simple heart defects don't need any special care at school. Those with more complicated heart defects, though, may show signs that need attention, such as:

  • fast breathing or shortness of breath
  • bluish coloring of the skin (cyanosis)
  • chest discomfort

Students with congenital heart defects may:

  • tire easily or want to avoid activities that require a lot of exertion
  • have activity restrictions
  • need to carry a water bottle to stay hydrated or stay indoors on hot days
  • need extra time to go to and from classes
  • need to go the bathroom a lot if they're taking diuretic medication
  • have bluish skin coloring due to low oxygen levels
  • need to use supplemental oxygen
  • need to go to the school nurse for medicines
  • miss class time to see cardiologists or other medical professionals
  • have developmental delays or learning problems

What Teachers Can Do

Check with your student's parents or guardians to learn about the nature of the heart condition and any effects on learning and school activities.

If a student with a congenital heart defect misses class time for doctor visits or hospitalizations, allow extra time for assignments and provide make-up work if appropriate. Most kids and teens with congenital heart defects can fully participate in most physical and extracurricular activities and should be encouraged to do so.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: June 2018