Congenital heart disease is the most common type of birth defect, affecting nearly 1% of all births in the United States. Thanks to advancements in diagnosis and treatment, most individuals born with heart defects now live long and healthy lives. But with more patients living well into adulthood, we have much to learn about the impact of congenital heart disease later in life.
As such, researchers analyzed data from a province-wide registry in Quebec, Canada to assess stroke risk among patients with congenital heart disease. Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability worldwide. And while survival rates have improved among patients with congenital heart disease, patients are still at increased risk for heart events.
Nearly 30,000 adults with congenital heart disease were included in the registry, which contains data on health care encounters in Quebec between 1998 and 2010. Patients were between 18 and 64 years old and followed for various health outcomes for up to 12 years. Study findings were recently published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.
Overall, researchers found that risk for ischemic stroke was 6% in women and 8% in men with congenital heart disease. Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke, occurring when a blood clot blocks blood supply to the brain. Hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when there’s bleeding in the brain, is less common and occurred in roughly 1% of adults with congenital heart disease.
Although these numbers might not sound like much, they’re significantly higher than the general population. Young adults (18–55 years old) with congenital heart disease had 5–12 times greater risk of stroke. Older adults (55–64 years old) with congenital heart disease had 2–4 times higher stroke risk than the general population.
Researchers also found that the greatest risk factors for stroke were heart failure, diabetes and history of heart attack.
Findings suggest that congenital heart disease significantly increases stroke risk, especially in young adults under 55. Risk factors like heart failure and diabetes may further increase risk.
As authors explain, the next step is to see whether better management of congenital heart disease may help reduce stroke risk. Experts hope that managing the condition and addressing any cardiovascular risk factors can help offset the increased stroke risk from congenital heart disease.