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Jan 27, 2017

Study Helps Identify High-Risk Patients with a Complication from Congenital Heart Defects

Experts hope these findings will help improve outcomes for patients with Eisenmenger syndrome.

Doctors can better identify high-risk patients with complications from heart defects, thanks to a recent study that assessed mortality risk in patients with a life-threatening condition called Eisenmenger syndrome.

Eisenmenger syndrome is a major complication associated with congenital heart defects. It occurs when the direction of blood flow reverses in the heart, causing blood to circulate abnormally in the heart and lungs. While this condition is life-threatening, survival rates have improved thanks to advances in diagnosis and treatment. However, data is lacking and factors that impact survival of Eisenmenger syndrome remain unclear.

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from patients with Eisenmenger syndrome treated at eleven international heart clinics between 2000 and 2015. A total of 1,098 patients were included in the analysis, all of whom were at least 16 years old and followed for roughly three years after initial treatment.

During the follow-up period, one-quarter of patients with Eisenmenger died. However, researchers found that patients who were older and had certain conditions had significantly greater risk of death than those without. For example, risk of death increased by 41% with every 10-year increase in age. Conditions like pre-tricuspid shunt, low oxygen saturation at rest and presence of sinus rhythm increased mortality risk by 53–56%. A condition called pericardial effusion, which occurs when excess fluid builds up around the heart, more than doubled risk of death in patients with Eisenmenger syndrome.

Experts hope these findings, which were recently published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, help improve outcomes for patients with Eisenmenger syndrome. Previously, little was known about risk factors that impact survival, making it difficult to identify those at high risk who require aggressive treatment. However, experts have identified a number of potential risk factors that increase mortality risk in patients with Eisenmenger syndrome. With further research, authors hope to improve our understanding of Eisenmenger syndrome and continue to improve outcomes for patients with this condition.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What are congenital heart defects?
  • Congenital heart defects refer to a number of different conditions that can occur when a baby’s heart is forming or at birth. Although most defects are found during pregnancy or in early childhood, some defects aren’t discovered until adulthood. Survival rates depend on the severity of the heart defect, but most individuals with congenital heart defects live long and healthy lives.
  • 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.

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