Minor heart defects at birth shown to increase risk for cardiac disease risk later in life, Stanford study finds

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Being born with a minor heart defect is a surprisingly big deal in the long term, Stanford scientists have discovered.

Congenital defects such as a faulty heart valve or small hole in the heart can usually be treated with a straightforward surgery in early life. But, as adults, people born with these defects face a greatly increased risk of further heart problems, even if they maintain heart-healthy lifestyles, the new research showed.

Stanford Children’s pediatric cardiologist James Priest, MD, and his colleagues conducted a large study of adult survivors of congenital heart defects, published February 28 in Circulation. For the study, they combed through the UK Biobank, which features health data on half a million people in Britain, and found about 2,000 who were born with heart defects. Their analysis showed that those born with less-serious heart defects were 13 times as likely to develop heart failure or atrial fibrillation, five times as likely to have a stroke, and twice as likely to suffer a heart attack compared to people born with normal hearts. The news came as a surprise, Priest said.

From Stanford School of Medicine press release:

“All of us in cardiology recognize that people with complex disease need follow-up care throughout their lives… But for the simple problems, we’ve been thinking that once you close the hole or fix the valve, these patients are good to go.”

Priest and his colleagues don’t know why those born with heart defects — about 1 percent of the population — face much higher risks of heart problems as adults. “Is it the surgery? Could it be the medications? Or is it something intrinsic to having congenital heart disease? We don’t know,” Priest said, adding, “We don’t know why infants have congenital heart disease to begin with.”

The findings suggest that people born with heart defects, even minor ones, would benefit from being monitored by a cardiologist in adulthood, he concluded.

Learn more about the Adult Congenital Heart Program

Photo by: Jenny Hill 

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