Did you cause your child’s Heart Defect?

There has been some recent news coverage that contends that you just might have, if you were obese when you became pregnant.  But just in case you need to be reminded, News organizations make money by selling their product. There are lots of ways to do this, but two of them are really effective: 1) Make something so appealing that you just have to know more; and 2) Scare you so bad that you tune in/buy a copy to learn how to protect yourself.

How many Heart Moms look at their child in an ICU unit and ask themselves “What if…?” I’d wager that the answer to that question is all of them.

So you need to take health news on TV and in magazines with a grain of salt. A big grain of salt, really. The first thing I would recommend is that you drop by Gary Schwitzer’s Health News Review Blog. Gary has been in the Health Reporting field for 30 years, and he’ll tell you if the latest news report is wrong, and how it is wrong. This is a great resource to check out all those “We’re doomed!” news stories for yourself. Gary can teach you how to look at those news stories with a critical eye and not be scared to death.

Don’t take everything you read or hear at face value; if possible, try to find the original research. Read the information for yourself; then make an informed decision.

Did you cause your child’s Heart Defect? No one can tell you for sure. The new report that is stirring so much concern says that there is a better chance of having a child with a Heart Defect, but obviously it is not a certainty.

The heart begins as a straight tube, much like a drinking straw. As the heart develops it actually starts to beat in this configuration! Later, it will twist and fold over onto itself, forming a loop that will begin to grow together and form the organ that we are all familiar with.

All this happens before you even think that you might be pregnant. By the time you see the doctor to confirm it, the heart has formed. If you are destined to be a Heart Mom, it has already been decided.

Now this doesn’t mean that you can ignore all of your doctor’s advice! But think about it – millions of women have been like my mom – she did everything right, tried to follow their  doctor’s instructions to the letter, and still  I was born with a Heart Defect. Other women had every vice known to man, and their children were born healthy. So what causes Heart Defects?

I think that the main cause is a combination of genetics and environment. Research funded by the March of Dimes has found several genes that interact to help the heart form. Of special interest is the GATA4 gene – something it does helps the heart split into the left and right sides and form the Septum.  Figure out what is happening there, and maybe you can stop ASDs and VSDs!

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has also determined that genetics play a part in the development of Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). A study of the family medical history of HLHS patients found that their ancestors also had a specific heart problem: a Bicuspid Aortic Valve. So apparently there is a genetic cause for HLHS – now the challenge is to find it.

Environment also contributes to heart defects. A section of Baltimore, Maryland contains a “cluster” where the incidence of HLHS is twice as high as the national average. What is going on there? What makes that area so different that it could trigger a Heart Defect?

Nationally, the incidence of Heart Defects is 1 out of every 125 newborns. But in the state of Wisconsin, the rate is 1 out of every 74 newborns. Wisconsin isn’t taking this lying down – they’ve created the Wisconsin Pediatric Cardiac Registry and are studying the data that it has generated, looking for clusters and what might be in the area that could create a Heart Defect hot spot.

What is the interaction between genetic factors and environment? What happens that triggers the formation of a heart defect? No one is certain, and the scary answer is that different factors contribute to different heart defects.  But if one day we could answer those questions, then maybe we could slam the door on Congenital Heart Defects.

Because every heart deserves to live a lifetime.

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4 Responses to “Did you cause your child’s Heart Defect?”

  1. Kristine Brite Says:

    Actually, this was a wire story all over the web based on a study recently released, I disagree with your contention that the news companies are scaring you to buy their paper. What actually happened here is that the researchers’ or hospital’s PR company wrote a press release that was picked up over and over (mainly due to short staffing, a well written press release is almost guaranteed coverage these days). I wrote for a newspaper and never once wrote a news article to sell papers. Neither did my colleagues. It’s one study. Now should moms feel guilt? As an obese CHD mom, absolutely not. It’s too small of a study. And, as we all know, these sorts of studies often miss some sort of correlating factor, like genetics. Perhaps the CHD genes or genes also lead to an increase in the likelihood to be obese. Who knows? But, thanks for addressing the “guilt” issue. It’s felt by almost every mom. But, as women of child bearing age should we try live healthy lives and maintain a healthy weight if trying to conceive, absolutely. Should we take folic acid? Yes.

  2. rhonda Says:

    Thanks for clarifying that Steve…I know now that I didn’t cause Zeb’s CHD but as a mom who didn’t know what CHD was and to hear all these crazy ads about weight, meds etc…it tortured me for a while….Someone really needed this today..
    Hugs as always!!

    Hey we got Z a Superman shirt..Not the same one cause they didn’t have his size but a cute one!! I will be posting it on my blog and facebook..

  3. Jenny Says:

    As soon as I saw the title of this blog entry, my eyes welled up with tears. My greatest fear (2nd to my daughter’s health of course) is that one day, “they” will find a true cause for HLHS and it will end up having been my fault. I couldn’t imagine knowing that I did this to her and all that she has endured is strictly my fault. When we got our daughter’s diagnosis, one of my husbands co-workers said to him, “Are you mad at your wife for her doing this to your baby?” Of course my husband responded by telling him that I did not do this and it was just the decision God made for us. But I cried for days about that. I was terrified to think that other people thought I did this to her. Thanks for the post!


    I like the approach you took with this subject. It’s not often that you discover a subject so to the point and informative.

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