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CHD Facts

It is estimated that 40,000 babies with Congenital Heart Defects (CHD) are born in the United States each year.

CHD is the most frequently occurring birth defect, and is the leading cause of birth-defect related deaths with some estimating the mortality rate to be 50%, depending on the defect.

At least 8 of every 1,000 infants born each year have a heart defect. That translates to an estimated 250 infants born with CHD each year in Nebraska.

Though research is ongoing, at least 35 defects have now been identified. In most cases scientists do not definitively know what causes hearts to be developed abnormally. It does appear that chromosomal abnormalities, genetic predisposition and environmental factors can play a role in the occurrence of some congenital heart defects, but exactly how is uncertain.

Although some babies will be diagnosed during gestation or at birth, sometimes the diagnosis is not made until days, weeks, months, or even years after. In some cases, CHD’s are not detected until adolescence or adulthood.

It is a proven fact that the earlier CHD is detected and treated, it is more likely the affected child will survive and have less long term health complications.

Some CHD’s may not require treatment other than periodic visits to a Pediatric Cardiologist. Others can be treated with medications or repaired with surgery and/or procedures. Complex defects may require several surgeries and are never really “cured”.

In 1998, 707 children from 0-17 were listed with UNOS for a heart transplant. In that same year only 265 heart transplants were performed – the number being limited by the lack of available hearts for transplant in pediatric patients.

Many cases of sudden cardiac death in young athletes are caused by undiagnosed CHD’s and Childhood Onset Heart Disease.

During the year 1998 in the United States, 55,000 hospital admissions for treatment of CHD were recorded, a statistic which includes an estimated 20,000 operations performed for repair or palliation per year.

In 1938, the first major operation on the vessels near the heart was performed in an attempt to repair a defect in a young girl’s pulmonary artery. In 1944, the successful development of a surgical treatment for a type of CHD called Tetrology of Fallot, established heart surgery as a viable option, not a last resort. In 1952, the first open-heart surgery was performed on a 5 year old girl to repair a hole in her heart. All current cardiac surgical procedures – pediatric and adult – were developed from these roots of treating congenital heart defects.

For more information see the Congenital Heart Defects in Children Fact Sheet at the American Heart Association Web site.

Facts obtained from, The American Heart Association, and The March of Dimes web sites.