Experts Offer Parents Guidance on Avoiding Congenital Heart Defects

Folic acid supplements, consultation with doctors important

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THURSDAY, June 7, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Would-be parents can take four key steps to reduce the risk of having a baby with a heart defect, according to experts at the American Heart Association (AHA).

The group released the following guidelines in a new scientific statement:

  • First, talk with your doctor. Good preconception and prenatal care is important. Prospective mothers should be checked for diabetes, rubella (German or three-day measles), and influenza. Women of childbearing age need to be immunized against rubella and need to have their diabetes under control.
  • Second, women should take a daily multivitamin. The vitamin should contain 400 micrograms of folic acid or a folic acid supplement. Folic acid is important for normal growth and development of the fetus and appears to help protect against heart defects.
  • Review prescription and over-the-counter medication use with your doctor.
  • Avoid people who have the flu or other fever-related illnesses. Women who have a fever-related illness during the first trimester of pregnancy may face twice the risk of having a baby with a heart defect.

The statement was prepared by the AHA's Congential Cardiac Defects Committee of the Council on Cardiovascular Disease in the Young, which reviewed current information in medical/scientific literature. The article appears in the journal Circulation.

"This statement highlights the need to think about prevention of heart defects in babies before conception and very early in pregnancy," senior author Dr. Catherine L. Webb, a pediatric cardiologist at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, said in a prepared statement.

"Paying attention to parental lifestyle issues and the association with congenital heart disease is a good start. However, congenital heart disease may still occur in children despite excellent prenatal care and the very best efforts on the parents' part. It is very important to continue to learn much more about prevention of congenital heart disease through ongoing research studies," said Webb, who is also a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about congenital heart defects.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, May 22, 2007

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