Heart defects in infant may predict heart problems in birth mother later in life

April 02, 2018

DALLAS, April 2, 2018 -- Women who give birth to infants with congenital heart defects may have an increased risk of cardiovascular hospitalizations later in life, according to new research in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation.

The study of more than one million women is the first to show congenital heart defects in newborns may be a marker for an increased risk of their mothers developing heart problems, including heart attack and heart failure, years after pregnancy.

Researchers analyzed data on women who delivered infants between 1989 and 2013 in Quebec, Canada, who had critical, noncritical or no heart defects. They tracked the women up to 25 years after pregnancy for hospitalizations related to cardiovascular disease including heart attack, heart failure, atherosclerotic disorders and heart transplants.

Compared to mothers of infants without congenital heart defects, researchers found:

How heart defects in infants relate to post-pregnancy cardiovascular disease in their mothers is unclear, the study notes, and a genetic component cannot be excluded. In addition, because 85 percent of infants with heart defects now survive past adolescence, the psychosocial impact of congenital heart disease on caregivers may have a cumulative effect over the long term.

"Caring for infants with critical heart defects is associated with psychosocial and financial stress, which may increase the mothers' long-term risk for cardiovascular disease," said Nathalie Auger, M.D., the study's lead author and an epidemiologist at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Researchers believe the study provides an opportunity for these mothers to benefit from early prevention strategies and counseling to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease -- the leading cause of death in women.

Healthcare providers, like obstetricians, who treat and follow mothers in the early stages of dealing with children who have heart defects can help women understand and minimize their risk, Auger said.

"Those physicians are very well-positioned to inform women about this possibility, the greater risk of heart disease, and to provide recommendations for targeting other risk factors like smoking, obesity and physical activity," she said.

Some limitations of the research include the fact that women were young at the start of study, so for many, the 25-year follow-up did not extend past menopause, which excluded the highest risk period for cardiovascular disease. And, because researchers used existing medical data, they didn't have detailed risk factor information on the women, such as body weight and smoking status. These are important points that should be considered in future studies, researchers noted.
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Co-authors are Brian Potter, M.D., C.M., S.M.; Marianne Bilodeau-Bertrand, M.Sc.; and Gilles Paradis, M.D., M.Sc. The authors reported no conflicts of interest. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Fonds de recherche du Québec-Santé funded the study.

Additional Resources:

Statements and conclusions of study authors published in American Heart Association scientific journals are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the association's policy or position. The association makes no representation or guarantee as to their accuracy or reliability. The association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific association programs and events. The association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and device corporations and health insurance providers are available at http://www.heart.org/corporatefunding.

About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke - the two leading causes of death in the world. We team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases. The Dallas-based association is the nation's oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke. To learn more or to get involved, call 1-800-AHA-USA1, visit heart.org or call any of our offices around the country. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

American Heart Association

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