For the first time, scientists have demonstrated a risk relationship between mothers who give birth to babies with congenital heart defects and an increased risk of heart disease hospitalizations later in life for the mothers. In their new study, researchers show that heart attack, heart failure, and other heart complications are more likely in this group of women.
Congenital heart defects are more common than any other type of birth defect, impacting eight out of every 1,000 babies born. In their study, researchers followed more than one million women who delivered babies between 1989 and 2013 with either critical, non-critical, or no heart defects.
Researchers followed the women for up to 25 years following the pregnancy, recording any hospitalizations for heart disease: heart attack, heart failure, atherosclerosis, and heart transplants.
They found that mothers of babies born with critical congenital heart defects had a 43 percent higher risk of hospitalization for heart disease-related problems, and mothers of babies with non-critical heart defects had a 24 percent higher risk of hospitalization for the same reasons. This is all compared to mothers of babies with no heart defects.
What is it about delivering a baby with congenital heart defects that increases the risk of heart disease for the mother? Scientists are unsure, and the possibility of a potential genetic component is strong. Researchers from study comment on the “psychosocial impact of congenital heart disease on caregivers”, which can have a cumulative effect over time as modern medicine has improved the prognosis for babies born with heart defects.
"Caring for infants with critical heart defects is associated with psychosocial and financial stress, which may increase the mothers' long-term risk for cardiovascular disease," explained lead author Nathalie Auger, MD.
In the wake of the study’s results, Auger and others could use the findings to help obstetricians and women become aware of their potential risk, implementing early prevention strategies and counseling to combat the risk associated with giving birth to babies with heart defects.
“Physicians are very well-positioned to inform women about this possibility, the greater risk of heart disease, and to provide recommendations for targeting other risk factors like smoking, obesity and physical activity," Auger explained.
The present study was published in the journal Circulation.