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EDITORIAL: Congenital heart defects not uncommon in babies

Feb. 7-14 is Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Week

Ask anyone about special days in February and the most common response will be “Valentine’s Day.”

Perhaps it is fitting then that February is Heart Month in Canada, and the week of Feb. 7-14 is Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Week.

Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are the most common type of birth defect, affecting one in 80 to 100 Canadian newborns. CHDs are present at birth and can affect the structure of a baby’s heart and the way it works. They can affect how blood flows through the heart and out to the rest of the body. CHDs can vary from mild (such as a small hole in the heart) to severe (such as missing or poorly formed parts of the heart).

Approximately 25 per cent of babies born with a CHD will require surgery and/or other procedures in the first year of their life.

The good news is, whereas a CHD at one time was considered a terminal disease, with life expectancy limited to weeks or months in most cases, the progress made in the medical industry over the past half-century has resulted in adults now accounting for more than 50 per cent of people living with CHDs. It is also estimated that now more than 90 per cent of children born with a CHD will survive to adulthood.

Depending on the type of CHD, signs and symptoms vary. Some defects may have no visible symptoms. Other, more serious defects, may cause a baby to have blue-tinted nails or lips, fast or troubled breathing, tiredness when feeding, or sleepiness.

The causes for most CHDs are unknown, although genetics and a mother’s diet can play roles. Pre-existing obesity or diabetes, as well as smoking while pregnant, have been linked to heart defects in babies.

The Canadian Congenital Heart Alliance has a wealth of information regarding CHDs, including support programs and educational resources. For more information on CHDs, visit


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