Congenital Heart Defects Can Be Detected in the First Trimester of Pregnancy

Awareness can spell hope to thousands of families

Until you are faced with the diagnosis yourself, it may seem unimaginable that a congenital heart defect (CHD) is the most common birth defect worldwide, affecting over 40,000 babies in the U.S. alone. For those parents who receive the diagnosis, having reliable information and access to medical resources and support services is critical. The Congenital Heart Information Network was set up for that purpose and created Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week—which starts today—to spread the word. For parents at risk or who want every assurance that their baby is healthy, our maternal-fetal medicine specialists can detect CHDs with an advanced ultrasound test as early as the first trimester. For women at higher risk, our specially trained ultrasound sonographers can perform a fetal echocardiogram after 17 to 18 weeks to provide a more definitive diagnosis. Detecting defects early enables us to provide the support and counseling you need to understand your condition and prognosis and prepare for the medical support you may need after the birth of your baby. While no parent wants to hear this news, having information in advance provides the best outcomes possible. Congenital heart defects range in severity from so slight that they may require no more than regular monitoring into adulthood to severe enough to require immediate attention after birth. Treatments for CHDs have advanced dramatically over the past few decades. Today, many babies whose defects were once untreatable go on to live healthy lives and raise their own families. Risk factors for CHD While not all congenital heart defects have an obvious cause, we know that certain factors can put a baby at greater risk for an abnormality. These include:
  • A parent or sibling with a heart defect
  • Another genetic defect such as Down syndrome or Turner syndrome
  • Viral infection during the first trimester of pregnancy (such as German measles)
  • Medications that include lithium, Accutane (for acne) or anti-seizure medications
  • Drinking alcohol while pregnant
  • Smoking while pregnant
  • Using cocaine while pregnant
  • Diabetes