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Dec 21, 2017

Surgery Proves to be Life-Saving for People Born with a Hole in the Heart

Corrective surgery reduces mortality risk, especially when performed earlier in life. 

Surgery may be life-saving for patients born with a hole in their heart, based on a Danish study of more than 2,200 patients with an atrial septal defect.

Published in the European Heart Journal, this study explored survival rates associated with a congenital heart defect called atrial septal defect. Atrial septal defect, often referred to as ASD, is a common birth defect that causes a hole in the wall between the top two chambers of the heart. While ASD varies in severity, many studies have linked this condition to increased risk of complications and decreased life expectancy. But thanks to advances in diagnosis and treatment, experts wonder if survival rates have improved for patients with ASD.

To learn more, researchers analyzed data from Danish health registries dating back to 1959. Together, these registries included 2,277 individuals with ASD who were followed for an average of 18 years following their diagnosis. Most of these patients (68%) underwent surgery to correct their defect during the study period.

After comparing mortality risk among patients with and without ASD, researchers found that patients with ASD had 70% greater risk of death than the general population. However, patients who had surgery to correct their defect had significantly lower mortality risk than those who did not.

Researchers also found patients who underwent surgery before the age of 18 had a lower mortality risk than those who underwent the procedure later in life.

Authors add that short-term mortality risk associated with surgery was low, confirming the safety of corrective procedures in patients with ASD. They also note that patients undergoing surgery were much healthier than those who didn’t, indicating that many patients who passed on surgery were likely too high-risk.

According to authors, findings highlight the importance of regular follow-up for patients diagnosed with ASD. While not all patients may need immediate surgery to fix their condition, authors encourage re-evaluation within 10 years of diagnosis. Health can change over time, and it’s possible that patients who passed on surgery initially may benefit from treatment down the road.

At the same time, authors also encourage routine monitoring in patients with ASD who have had corrective surgery. While surgery has been shown to improve life expectancy, ADS increases mortality risk regardless of corrective surgery, so it’s important that all patients take steps to promote better health and reduce risk of complications.

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.

Infographic: Congenital Heart Defects


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