Heart Health

12 October 2016

Babies' heart problems linked to mothers' chronic diseases

Taiwanese researchers found that pregnant women who had themselves been born with heart defects, or who later developed type 2 diabetes, were more likely to have babies born with severe heart disease.


Babies born to mothers with certain chronic diseases may be at increased risk for heart problems, a new study suggests.

No cause-and-effect link

The analysis included millions of births in Taiwan. The researchers found that pregnant women who themselves had been born with heart defects or who later developed type 2 diabetes were more apt to have babies born with severe heart disease ("congenital" disease).

The study didn't prove a cause-and-effect link. However, babies of mothers with these conditions should be closely monitored after birth, according to the researchers.

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The investigators said they also found a slightly higher risk of mild congenital heart problems in babies of mothers with several other chronic diseases, including: type 1 diabetes, high blood pressure, anaemia and epilepsy.

"Although some maternal diseases were associated with congenital heart disease in offspring, caution should be applied in interpreting these associations, because the population-attributable risks were very low," the study authors wrote.

Prenatal screening

Still, the results are of value in identifying and advising high-risk women, according to lead author Dr Chung-Yi Li, a professor at the Institute of Public Health at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan, and colleagues.

The study was published in the CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

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"For pregnant women who are at high risk, more frequent prenatal screening (with foetal echocardiography) may be warranted. Early recognition of congenital heart disease also permits optimal preparation and care during pregnancy, delivery and the postnatal period," the researchers said in a journal news release.

Congenital heart disease occurs in five to 15 of every 1,000 live births and is the leading cause of death in newborns, according to background information in the news release.

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