Congenital Heart Defects in Babies


ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — According to the CDC, about one in every 100 babies has a congenital heart defect. This means they are born with a structural problem in their hearts. There are at least 18 types of congenital heart problems, and some of them are becoming more prevalent. We’ll explain why…

Every year, 40,000 babies in the United States are born with a congenital heart defect and doctors say they’re on the rise.

Shubhika Srivastva, MD, Mount Sinai Hospital, says, “Definitely, we are seeing more patients with suspected congenital heart diseases and suspected cardiac problems because there’s been an increase in awareness.”

Another reason for the spike … doctors are able to spot the problems earlier thanks to improved prenatal screening. And, what moms-to-be do during pregnancy matters. Factors that can increase a baby’s risk include taking certain meds during pregnancy, drinking or smoking while pregnant, having uncontrolled diabetes or a rubeola infection while pregnant, and undergoing in-vitro fertilization or “IVF.”

“IVF is now a new indication for screening for congenital heart disease,” continued Dr. Srivastva.

Many of the defects are identified before a baby is born, but if they aren’t, look out for symptoms such as gray or blue skin, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, poor feeding, little weight gain, or swelling in the legs, abdomen, or around the eyes. Some heart defects are mild, while others require major, life-saving treatment.

Some congenital heart defects might not be diagnosed until later in childhood or during the teen years. Symptoms in older children can include fainting, becoming extremely short of breath, or getting very tired during exercise or physical activity. Swelling in the hands, feet, and ankles is another possible sign.

Contributors to this news report include: Julie Marks, Producer; and Roque Correa, Editor.

Free weekly e-mail on Medical Breakthroughs from Ivanhoe. To sign up:

REPORT #2550

BACKGROUND: Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are the most common type of birth defect. CHDs are present at birth and can affect the structure of a baby’s heart and the way it works. They can affect how blood flows through the heart and out to the rest of the body. They vary from mild (such as a small hole in the heart) to severe (such as missing or poorly formed parts of the heart). About 1 in 4 babies born with a heart defect has a critical CHD (also known as critical congenital heart disease). Babies with a critical CHD need surgery or other procedures in the first year of life. About 75 percent of babies born with a critical CHD are expected to survive to one year of age, and about 69 percent are expected to survive to 18 years of age. Survival and medical care for babies with critical CHDs are improving. Between 1979 and 1993, about 67 percent of infants survived to one year, and between 1994 and 2005, about 83 percent of infants survived to one year.

(Source: and

SYMPTOMS AND RISKS: Serious congenital heart defects usually become evident soon after birth or during the first few months of life. Signs and symptoms could include pale gray or blue skin color, rapid breathing, swelling in the legs, abdomen or areas around the eyes, and even shortness of breath during feedings. If signs and symptoms are evident in older children, they include easily becoming short of breath during exercise or activity, easily tiring during exercise or activity, fainting during exercise or activity, or swelling in the hands, ankles or feet. Most congenital heart defects result from problems early in your child’s heart development, the cause of which is unknown. However, certain environmental and genetic risk factors may play a role. These risk factors include rubella, diabetes, medications, drinking alcohol during pregnancy, smoking, and heredity. Congenital heart defects sometimes run in families and may be associated with a genetic syndrome. Genetic testing can detect such disorders during fetal development. If you already have a child with a congenital heart defect, a genetic counselor can estimate the odds that your next child will have one.


CHD AND EPILEPSY: Children with congenital heart disease have a higher risk of the seizure disorder epilepsy through adulthood, according to a Northwestern Medicine study by Bradley Marino, MD, MPP, MSCE, professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Cardiology. In the observational study, Marino and a team of collaborators examined data from more than 15,000 patients born and diagnosed with CHD between 1980 and 2010 in Denmark. They found that children with CHD were more than three times more likely to be diagnosed with epilepsy before five years of age, compared with the general population, and more than twice as likely from ages 5 to 32. Overall, the incidence of epilepsy in patients with CHD by age 15 was 5 percent. The risk of epilepsy was particularly elevated in patients who had undergone multiple surgeries for CHD, although the risk remained comparatively higher even for those born with mild conditions who hadn’t received any interventions. The authors suggest that the heightened risk may be a result of nonsurgical factors, such as a lack of sufficient oxygen due to CHD that leads to neurodevelopmental changes. There may also be a genetic explanation for the link between CHD and epilepsy.


 * Contact:  Tildy La Farge, Director of Media/Public Affairs