Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect, affecting nearly 1% of all births per year in the United States. Thanks to advances in the diagnosis and treatment, most individuals with heart defects go on to live long and healthy lives. However, many patients worry about heart defects causing sudden, unexpected death. These concerns prevent some patients with congenital heart defects from engaging in normal physical activity.
To learn more about this issue, researchers analyzed the medical records of more than 11,200 Norwegian children with congenital heart defects. Using national health registries, researchers identified children born with heart defects between 1994 and 2009 and tracked patient outcomes through 2012.
The good news is that based on study data, risk of sudden cardiac death is extremely low among children with congenital heart defects. Among 11,272 children with heart defects, only 0.2% of children 2-18 years old experienced sudden death unrelated to heart surgery. About one-third of these deaths were from sudden cardiac death. However, none of the sudden cardiac deaths were related to physical activity.
The take home message, as authors explain, is that fear of sudden cardiac death should not deter patients with congenital heart defects from exercising. Exercise is a cornerstone of good health and has been shown to improve outcomes in many heart patients. Not only is sudden death extremely rare in children with heart defects, cases of sudden cardiac death are generally unrelated to physical activity.
However, it’s important to note that the severity of birth defects varies greatly from patient to patient. Some birth defects are more serious than others and may require treatment or limitation of physical activity. Therefore, it’s important that patients with heart defects work closely with their care team to determine what’s right for them.