Congenital Heart Defects a Leading Cause of Infant Death

National Infant Mortality Awareness Month

Congenital heart defects, one of the leading causes of infant death, affect nearly 40,000 babies in the United States each year. The most common type of birth defect, these conditions affect the structure of a baby’s heart, influencing how blood flows through it and is pumped to the rest of the body. Defects can range from mild (such as a small hole in the chambers of the heart) to severe (missing or poorly formed portions of the heart).

Though some congenital heart defects can be diagnosed prior to birth through a fetal echocardiogram, a special type of ultrasound, many are not detected until later in life. Signs and symptoms for congenital heart defects vary greatly depending on the type and severity of the condition, and some may not display any symptoms at all. Common symptoms include bluish tinted nails or lips, fast or troubled breathing, tiring easily when feeding or exhibiting extreme sleepiness.

Though some babies develop congenital heart defects due to changes in their genes or chromosomes, the causes among most babies are unknown. It is thought that a combination of genes and other factors including environment, maternal diet and maternal medication use could be at fault. Additionally, CDC study collaborators have found that babies exposed to obesity, diabetes and smoking are at increased risk for congenital heart defects.

For more information, visit the CDC’s webpage on congenital heart defects.