Congenital Heart Defects
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Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital Heart Defects Causes and Risk Factors

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What causes congenital heart defects?

Congenital heart defects happen because the heart does not develop normally while the baby is growing in the womb. Doctors often do not know why congenital heart defects occur. Researchers do know that genetics can sometimes play a role.

It is common for congenital heart defects to occur because of changes, or mutations, in the child’s DNA. The mutations in the DNA may or may not have come from the parents.

Rarely, congenital heart defects are caused by particular genes that are inherited from the parents. That means a parent who has a congenital heart defect may be more likely to have a child with the defect.

What raises the risk of having a baby with a congenital heart defect?

Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect, occurring in about one percent of live births in the United States. The risk of having a baby with a congenital heart defect is influenced by many factors including:

  • Family history and genetics. Congenital heart disease is not usually passed along to your children, but there is some risk. The risk is greater if your baby’s other parent, or another of your children, has a congenital heart defect
  • Smoking during pregnancy or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Some medicines taken during the first trimester of pregnancy, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors for high blood pressure and retinoic acids for acne treatment
  • Other medical conditions like diabetes, phenylketonuria (a rare, inherited disorder that affects how your body processes a protein called phenylalanine), or a viral infection called rubella
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