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Aug 27, 2016

Surgery Becoming Safer, More Effective for Children with Congenital Heart Defects

Analysis of Finnish registries shows significant improvement in survival rates for children undergoing surgery for heart defects.

Surgery has become much safer for children with congenital heart defects over the past 60 years, based on analysis of a Finnish health registry that shows significant improvements in survival rates between 1953 and 2009.

Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, this study looked at mortality rates among children undergoing surgery for congenital heart defects. Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect, affecting nearly 1% of all births in the United States. For some patients, early surgery can correct heart defects and prevent complications later in life. But with significant advances in treatment, experts wonder how much progress we’ve made in improving outcomes after cardiac surgery in recent decades.

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from a cardiac surgery database and population registry in Finland. Together, these registries included nearly 11,000 patients with heart defects that underwent cardiac surgery before the age of 15 between 1953 and 2009.

Overall, researchers found that mortality rates within 30 days of surgery were 6%. During nearly 60 years of follow-up, an additional 10% of patients died in the years following their surgery. However, mortality rates significantly decreased between the 1950s and 2009. In fact, sudden death after surgery for conditions like atrial septal defect and tetralogy of Fallot decreased to zero by 2009.

However, heart-related deaths were more likely in patients with severe heart defects. Authors also note that pneumonia remains a major concern, as it caused the majority of non-heart related deaths among patients. Heart failure was the most common cause of heart-related deaths, although heart failure rates decreased over the study period.

The good news is that post-surgery survival rates have significantly improved for children with congenital defects. According to authors, improvements are largely thanks to more aggressive and advanced surgical interventions that have been developed in the past few decades.

However, experts still challenge patients and providers to further maximize survival rates. With early lifestyle changes a

nd improved treatment, experts hope to continue to improve survival rates and outcomes.

Read the full article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What are congenital heart defects?
  • “Congenital” means present from birth. So, congenital heart defects refers to a number of different conditions that can occur when a baby’s heart is forming or at birth. As a result, the heart—or the major vessels in and around the heart—may not develop or work the way they should.

    Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect. Roughly 8 of every 1,000 babies are born with some sort of structural defect in their hearts. These problems cause more deaths in the first year of life than any other birth defects. Some examples are atrial septal defect, coarctation of the aorta, and aortic stenosis.

    But, there is good news. More babies are surviving than ever before thanks to advances in treating and correcting many of these problems. Although most defects are found during pregnancy by ultrasound or in early childhood, some defects aren’t discovered until adulthood. About 1 million adults are living with congenital heart disease.

  • How common are congenital heart defects?
  • Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect, affecting roughly 1% of all births in the United States. Thanks to advancements in treatments, it’s estimated that 1 million adults are now living with a congenital heart defect.

Infographic: Congenital Heart Defects


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