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Congenital Heart Defects: Medical History and Physical Exam

Congenital Heart Defects: Medical History and Physical Exam

When determining whether your baby has a congenital heart defect, the doctor will ask questions about your baby's medical history and your medical history. And your baby will have a physical exam.1

Medical history

Questions include the following:

  • What symptoms does your baby have?
  • When are symptoms usually present? Symptoms may be present only when your baby is eating or crying.
  • Has your baby been less active than usual?
  • How is your baby's appetite? How much does your baby usually eat and drink? Describe a typical feeding. Does he or she have trouble feeding or tire easily while feeding?
  • Has your baby been urinating less often than usual?
  • Does your baby's color change when he or she is crying? If so, does the color quickly return to normal after crying stops?
  • What position does he or she seem most comfortable in when resting?
  • Has your baby ever passed out? If the child is older: Has your child ever complained of his or her heart beating in a strange way?
  • Did you have or were you exposed to rubella (German measles) or any other infections during your pregnancy?
  • Did you take any medicines, use illegal drugs, or drink alcohol during your pregnancy?
  • Do you have a family history of congenital heart defects?

Physical exam

The doctor will:

  • Check your child's weight and length.
  • Check your child's heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Listen to your child's heart and lungs with a stethoscope to detect whether a heart murmur is present. A heart murmur can be normal in children but should be checked by a doctor.
  • Check your child's heart rate (pulses) on the neck, wrist, legs, and feet.
  • Check your child's nail beds, lips, and skin for a bluish tint (cyanosis) and/or clubbing. Your doctor may also check the amount of oxygen in your child's blood with an oximeter.
  • Look at the skin over the blood vessels in the neck to see whether the vessels bulge. This may happen if the heart is weak (heart failure).
  • Look at and feel your child's belly to check for an enlarged liver. The liver may be enlarged in children who have heart failure.



  1. Brown DW, Fulton DR (2011). Congenital heart disease in children and adolescents. In V Fuster et al., eds., Hurst's The Heart, 13th ed., pp. 1827–1883. New York: McGraw-Hill.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerJohn Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical ReviewerLarry A. Latson, MD - Pediatric Cardiology
Last RevisedOctober 11, 2011

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