Congenital heart defects: more people are surviving thanks to better diagnosis and better treatment

Each year, more than 35,000 babies are born with congenital heart defects. The chances of survival were slim not so long ago. But today, more than a million adults live with congenital heart defects.

A pediatric surgeon from Children’s Medical Center and UT Southwestern Medical Center explains why.

Dr. Robert Jacquiss, pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon at Children’s Medical Center and UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Interview Highlights:

Today, the chances of survival from congenital birth defects“For some of the malformations we operate on now, when I was in medical school, survival beyond a month was unlikely. The most deadly of these is the so-called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. I got my medical degree in 1986, and at that time most children who suffered from this disease, there was no treatment. And an 80% chance of five years and beyond.”

Reasons for this“We are better at diagnosis. For many of these children, their problem is identified before they are born so that we can prepare for it. Even those who are not identified in this way, we can make the diagnosis soon after birth.

Treatment progressed“Recognition of the complexity of these babies, of the fact that the necessary medications have to be thought out and dosed differently, that the care they receive in the operating room and in the intensive care unit is radically different. We are better surgeons than our predecessors – better equipment, better technology, better understanding of the disease process.

Quality of life for those who survive congenital heart defects into adulthood“Some of the heart conditions that we can treat in early childhood can essentially be considered cured, and so we can tell parents that their children will grow up and have a normal quality of life and life expectancy.

But“One of the disadvantages we have in the United States with our healthcare system is that we don’t have one big computerized database, so we can’t (answer that) as well as some of our colleagues from Western Europe can. One of the things we know is that if you have the simplest congenital heart disease, you are more likely to have a job, be more educated and being married than someone who doesn’t. This may reflect a more caring health care system. But even for children with very complicated heart conditions, our treatment is now so good that for the vast majority of them, they don’t really have to think about their congenital heart except when they come back to see a cardiologist and have a reminder that they have something that still needs periodic tune-ups.

For more information: