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Jul 07, 2014

Patients Born with Heart Defects Living Well into Adulthood

Improved testing has helped diagnose and treat minor heart conditions that may have gone under the radar 20 years ago.

Patients born with heart defects are living longer than ever, according to an analysis of Canadian health records from 1983–2010.

Designed to identify national trends related to congenital heart disease, this study tapped into a Canadian database tracking the health of individuals with heart defects over a 28-year span. Congenital heart disease is an abnormality in the heart’s structure, and is diagnosed in close to 1% of all births in the United States. With improvements in diagnosis and treatment, researchers wondered how these changes have impacted survival rates in recent years.

After identifying more than 107,000 Canadian patients diagnosed with congenital heart disease between 1983 and 2010, researchers analyzed data to find trends related to diagnosis and survival rates. Their most striking finding was that congenital heart disease has become increasingly common among children and adults, alike, in the past few decades. From 2000–2010, congenital heart disease rates increased by 11% in children and 57% in adults, and by 2010, the majority of patients with congenital heart disease were adults.

However, authors have a likely explanation for these trends. First, improved testing helps diagnose minor conditions that may have gone under the radar 20 years ago. That means more patients are diagnosed with congenital heart disease than ever before. Improvements in treatment have also helped patients with heart defects live longer, healthier lives. As a result, adults comprise the majority of patients with congenital defects.

Based on these findings published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, authors highlight the increased resources needed to treat adults with congenital heart defects. Individuals with congenital heart disease require significantly more medical care than the average patient, impacting cost. In 2004, it’s estimated that $1.4 billion was spent on heart defects in the United States. With more patients living long and healthy lives with a congenital heart defect, significantly more resources will be needed to treat patients both now and in the future.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is congenital heart disease?
  • Congenital heart disease, often referred to as a congenital heart defect, includes a number of conditions causing an abnormality of the heart’s structure. These defects are present at birth. Many congenital heart defects are not diagnosed until children are older, since some have few signs or symptoms.
  • How are congenital heart defects treated?
  • Treatment for a congenital heart defect depends on the type of defect, how severe it is, and the child’s age and overall health. Based on these factors, treatment may range from medicine to surgery and heart transplants, depending on disease severity. However, many patients with congenital heart defects don’t require treatment.


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