Why Congenital Heart Disease Is a Growing Risk for Adults

Congenital heart disease hospitalization demographics are shifting

Congenital heart disease (CHD) is the most common birth defect in the United States, occurring in one of every 110 births.

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There are over 787,000 adults with congenital heart disease in the U.S., and according to recent numbers those adults are at a higher risk for hospitalization than pediatric patients with the same condition.

The findings

“We’re getting much better at getting these children with congenital heart problems to adulthood, but they still have tremendous needs.”

A recent study showed that congenital heart disease hospitalizations increased more quickly for adults from 1998 through 2010. Though pediatric hospitalizations accounted for a greater percentage of total of admissions, the rising risk for adult patients was reflected in the 87.8 percent growth in admissions.

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This is largely due to the number of pediatric patients with congenital heart disease who are living into adulthood. And though advances in medicine are allowing these patients to live longer, it’s not without complications and additional medical needs. The rate of coexisting medical conditions is also greater in adults.

“We’re getting much better at getting these children with congenital heart problems to adulthood,” says Richard A. Krasuski, MD, director of Cleveland Clinic’s Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center. “But they still have tremendous needs.”

Dr. Krasuski’s advice

“The results of the study point to the increasing need for proper treatment of adults with congenital heart disease,” says Dr. Krasuski. “It’s important that patients find a specialist who can address their problems and anticipate any complications.”

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Adults with congenital heart disease face unique challenges; the most common problem among adults is arrhythmia. In addition, research has shown that the risk of sudden cardiac death for patients surviving an operation is 25 to 100 times greater in an adult with congenital heart disease compared with a typical adult. Therefore, an aggressive approach to evaluation and treatment of adults with congenital heart disease is necessary. Continuum of care for a congenital heart disease pediatric patient into adulthood is important.  

“Childhood treatment for congenital heart problems shouldn’t end the relationship between the patient and cardiac specialist,” says Dr. Krasuski. Adult congenital care requires a coordinated team approach that includes an initial evaluation, explanation of therapeutic options, innovative surgical and transcatheter therapies and consultative follow-up.

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