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Surviving Congenital Heart Disease as Child Not a Ticket to Good Health

MONDAY, Oct. 9, 2017 -- Though the majority of children with congenital heart disease survive into adulthood, they often struggle with a number of lifelong illnesses, researchers report.

The health issues may include neurodevelopment disorders such as autism, respiratory problems, and/or heart arrhythmias.

"We are great at fixing the plumbing, but not at fixing the patient," said study author Martina Brueckner, a professor of pediatrics and genetics at the Yale School of Medicine.

Brueckner and her team pointed out that congenital heart disease affects roughly 1 percent of newborns. About 90 percent will make it into adulthood.

But a new genetic analysis that involved nearly 2,900 congenital heart disease survivors and their family members revealed that being born with that specific condition appears to be associated with a higher risk for developing other major health problems.

Many genes already implicated in autism were also associated with congenital heart disease, and the scientists also found new genes that were linked to congenital heart disease in some patients.

But the study did not prove that heart defects at birth caused these other illnesses, it just showed an association.

Also, the analysis suggested that some respiratory ailments found in patients with congestive heart failure are linked to defects in cilia, the hairlike structures on the surface of cells that carry out many biological functions.

"It has been frustrating to see one patient recover nicely and another with the exact same heart defect struggle," Brueckner said in a Yale news release. "This type of study helps us understand why and is a step toward personalized treatment."

The findings could help with counseling for affected families regarding the risk for recurrence of congestive heart disease, the researchers said.

Brueckner and her colleagues reported their findings in the Oct. 9 issue of Nature Genetics.

More information

There's more on congenital heart disease at the American Heart Association.

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Posted: October 2017