Boy standing in front of hearts drawn on chalkboard Each February, Americans celebrate National Heart Month by spreading heart health awareness and encouraging heart-healthy lifestyles. In children, congenital heart disease (CHD) is one of the most common birth defects, affecting 1 in 120 babies born in the United States each year. Heart Month is the perfect time to learn more about CHD and spread the word to your family and friends. Increased awareness fuels vital research that will improve care and treatments for children with CHD.

Celebrate Heart Month by checking out this round up of heart health facts and sharing with your family and friends.

Did you know…?

One million babies in the world are born with CHD each year.

Congenital (meaning present at birth) heart disease (CHD) is a term used to describe many different structural problems that affect the heart. These heart abnormalities are problems that occur as a baby is developing during pregnancy. There are many different variations of CHD, but these are the most common:

  • Ventricular septal defect
  • Atrial septal defect
  • Tetralogy of Fallot
  • Single ventricle defects
  • Pulmonary valve stenosis
  • Patent ductus arteriosus
  • Transposition of the great arteries
  • Aortic valve stenosis

Of the many babies born with CHD, 25% have a critical form and will require an intervention, such as surgery, during their first year of life. Although very rare in children, CHD is also one of several factors that put a child at risk of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Knowing the warning signs of SCA can prevent a medical crisis. Learn more about the associated risk factors and warning signs of SCA.

CHD survival rates are up by 30% thanks to advances in research and care.

CHD awareness has led to critical advances in research and had a profound effect on treatment and care for children. A routine screening at birth called pulse oximetry, which measures the level of oxygen in a baby’s blood, has reduced infant death from heart defects by 1/3 in states that require the screening. Developments in prosthetic valves and innovative transcatheter interventions have increased treatment options for children, offering minimally invasive alternatives to open-heart surgery. Advances in technology, such as 3D modeling and even virtual reality, are also used to individualize interventions and improve surgical outcomes.

70% of adults with CHD are not monitored by appropriate specialists.

Advances in research and care have led to improvement in life expectancy for children born with CHD. In fact, 85% of these babies live well into adulthood, and there are currently more than 1.4 million adults in the United States living with CHD. However, most of these adults are not receiving appropriate care. Even advanced treatments cannot permanently prevent recurring heart problems; adults with CHD may need future treatments, such as a valve repair or replacement. It’s critical that these adults receive ongoing monitoring and visit their cardiologist at least once each year. While most pediatric centers will follow children through their late teens or early 20s, experts recommend families begin to discuss preparing for the eventual transition to adult care by age 12.

More than 1 in 7 children have high blood pressure, putting them at risk of heart disease.

Heart disease can be genetic, and it’s important to know your family’s cardiac history so you can take steps to reduce your child’s risk of heart disease. However, lifestyle plays a huge role in cardiovascular health, and diets high in fat and salt put children at increased risk of heart disease and stroke. With a little planning, it can be easy to find heart-healthy foods your kids will love, such as lean meat, whole grain bread and fresh produce. For meal and snack ideas, read “Heart-healthy and Tasty Ideas for All.”

It’s also important to ensure your child gets enough exercise — at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each day, such as playing outside, jumping on the trampoline or taking the dog for a brisk walk. Finally, children (just like adults) need to keep an eye on their blood pressure and cholesterol. Healthy children should have their cholesterol checked between ages 9-11 and again between ages 17-19. Children with known risk factors should be screened more frequently.

Healthy habits are strongly linked to mental health. Adults who suffer from anxiety or depression are more likely to develop heart disease. Especially now, when the pandemic has impacted many people’s emotional and psychological health, it’s important to keep an eye out for mental health concerns in your children and potential habit-forming behavior, such as emotional eating, that could adversely affect their cardiovascular health. Get tips on promoting mental and cardiovascular health.

Keep in mind that heart issues are relatively rare in children, but require immediate medical attention when they do occur. To learn what symptoms could be signs of heart problems, when to call your pediatrician and when to see a pediatric cardiologist, read “What Symptoms Could be Signs of Heart Problems?”

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