Mom's heart risk higher when baby has heart defect

(Reuters Health) - Mothers of babies with heart defects are themselves at higher-than-average risk for being hospitalized with heart disease later in life, researchers say.

“Having a child with a heart defect is a marker of your own risk for heart disease,” study leader Dr. Nathalie Auger of the University of Montreal Hospital Research Center in Quebec told Reuters Health in a telephone interview.

Delivering a baby with a heart defect can be an early opportunity for a woman to adopt healthier habits that could help protect her own heart, such as quitting smoking, exercising and following a healthy diet, Dr. Auger said.

Earlier research has found that mothers who deliver a child with any type of birth defect are at increased risk of earlier death in the long term, Dr. Auger and her team note in their April 2 report in Circulation. Structural abnormalities of the heart are the most common birth defect, occurring in 8 out of every 1,000 births, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

For the current study, researchers looked at nearly 1.1 million women who delivered babies in Quebec in 1989-2013, including 1,516 infants with critical heart defects and 14,884 with non-critical heart defects. Critical defects require treatment soon after birth, while for non-critical defects, treatment can be delayed or may not be necessary.

During follow-up, which lasted for up to 25 years after pregnancy, mothers of infants with critical defects were 43 percent more likely to be hospitalized for cardiovascular disease. Risk was 24 percent higher for mothers whose babies had non-critical defects compared to mothers of infants with no heart defects. Mothers of babies with critical defects were more than twice as likely to have a heart attack, three times more likely to have other disease due to hardening of the arteries, and more than 40 times as likely to require a heart transplant.

For mothers of infants with non-critical defects, the risk of heart failure, pulmonary blood vessel disease, and pacemaker insertion were each roughly doubled.

While the study didn’t delve into why infants’ heart defects and maternal heart disease might be related, the authors note that they share a number of risk factors, including maternal smoking. Mothers of babies with heart defects, especially severe ones, can face stress, anxiety and depression, which can in turn boost heart disease risk, they add.

“It’s such a great opportunity, one that a man does not have,” Dr. Auger said. “Pregnancy is really a great time to identify things that are linked with your later health to allow you to make a change now, rather than wait until later when it is perhaps too late.”

SOURCE: Circulation, online April 2, 2018.