January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month! This year the theme is “And the Beat Goes On… Looking to the Future for Healthy Hearts” which focuses on congenital heart defects, the most common type of birth defect.
A congenital heart defect is an abnormality in any part of the heart that is present at birth. Heart defects originate in the early weeks of pregnancy when the heart is forming. About 35,000 infants (1 out of every 125) are born with heart defects each year in the United States. The defect may be so slight that the baby appears healthy for many years after birth, or so severe that his life is in immediate danger.
Heart defects are the leading cause of birth defect-related deaths. However, advances in diagnosis and surgical treatment have led to dramatic increases in survival for children with serious heart defects. In the United States, about 1.4 million children and adults live with congenital heart defects today. Almost all are able to lead active, productive lives.
A number of scientists funded by the March of Dimes are studying genes that may underlie specific heart defects or are seeking to identify new genes that may cause heart defects. The goal of this research is to better understand the causes of congenital heart defects, in order to develop ways to prevent them. Grantees also are looking at how environmental factors (such as a form of vitamin A called retinoic acid) may contribute to congenital heart defects. One grantee is seeking to understand why some babies with serious heart defects develop brain injuries, in order to learn how to prevent and treat them.
To learn more about the more common heart defects and how they affect a child, read our article.