Babies born today with heart defects are more likely than ever to live into adulthood.
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According to recent studies in Finland and Norway, more children treated for simple defects are having near-normal life spans. More children treated for riskier, complex defects also are living longer.
“Compare these findings with 50 years ago, when only about 15 percent of patients with complex congenital defects survived until adulthood,” says Richard Krasuski, MD, a cardiovascular specialist at Cleveland Clinic’s Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center.
In an article about the studies, an expert summarized that:
- More children are having heart surgeries at younger ages.
- More surgeries are being done for more complex defects.
- Fewer patients are dying after surgeries for complex defects.
- Patients are living longer, overall.
Virtually all heart defects can be corrected
Researchers attribute these better outcomes to:
- Detecting congenital heart defects earlier thanks to advanced technologies and procedures.
- New surgical techniques, including anesthesiology.
- Better postoperative intensive care.
“Virtually all [congenital heart defects] are now within reach of surgical correction with acceptable risk,” quoted one researcher.
Studies in the United States have found similar results, but these Scandinavian studies stand out because they’re based on 40 to 60 years of data. And they track an extensive number of Finnish (nearly 11,000) and Norwegian (more than 7,000) patients.
Lifelong medical care still needed
“This is encouraging news,” says David Majdalany, MD, a cardiovascular specialist in Cleveland Clinic’s Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center. “I anticipate that these positive trends will continue as our expertise evolves with surgical and non-surgical procedures.”
However, patients born with heart defects typically need lifelong cardiac checkups, he notes. And health concerns that commonly come with aging — such as menopause, erectile dysfunction and various cardiovascular diseases — can be more complicated for those who survived congenital heart disease.
“As the population of these patients grows and ages, we should work to optimize the transition from pediatric to adult care,” says Dr. Majdalany. “Congenital heart defects, even when surgically treated, generally come with conditions that require long-term medical attention.”