17 January 2017

Study Identifies Risk Factors for Congenital Heart Disease in Infants

A study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal identified the chronic conditions that may predispose women to give birth to infants with congenital heart disease, also known as congenital heart defects or CHD.

The study reviewed the Taiwan Maternal and Child Health Database’s records of 1,387,650 live births from 2004 to 2010. The researchers investigated three data sets including:

  • Birth Registrations data on the sociodemographic characteristics of live births
  • Birth Notifications data on prenatal care and the lifestyles of pregnant women
  • Medical claims data from Taiwan’s National Health Insurance program

The researchers found that several maternal chronic diseases were associated with higher rates of CHD in babies. These conditions include type 1 and type 2 diabetes, hypertension, CHD, anemia, connective tissue disorders, epilepsy and mood disorders. Pregnant women who are identified as at risk can receive preconception counselling and developing fetuses can be more closely screened for CHD via fetal echocardiography. Early recognition of CHD can additionally help clinicians optimize the care of both women and infants.

That said, there are some limitations to the study. The detection period for the study was restricted to the first year of life. Potential cases of CHD may have developed in later years; however, under-identification should be minimal, given the high frequency of prenatal care and health checkups for infants under National Health Insurance coverage. Additionally, researchers noted that maternal lifestyle factors, including smoking and alcohol consumption, were likely to be underreported in the Birth Notifications data set.

About CHD

CHD affects nearly 1 percent of births per year in the United States and is a leading cause of birth defect-associated infant illness and death, according to the CDC. About 25 percent of babies with CHD have a critical CHD and generally require surgery or other procedures in their first year of life.

Although a few states track CHD among newborns and young children, no tracking system exists for older children and adults with heart defects. A study published last July estimates that approximately 2.4 million people – including 1.4 million adults and one million children – were living with CHD in the U.S. in 2010. Nearly 300,000 of those individuals had severe CHD.

Research projects like the review published in the CMAJ continue to improve care for people affected by CHD. Improved counseling and screening procedures for CHD have the potential to both reduce the prevalence of CHD and its resulting fatalities.