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Cigarette use During Pregnancy Tied to Increased Risk of Heart Defects in Babies

Update Date: May 03, 2014 11:16 AM EDT

During pregnancy, women are reminded to stay away from drugs and other substances. In a new study, researchers examined the relationship between pregnant women who smoke and the heart health of their newborns. The researchers found that the more pregnant women smoke, the greater the risk for congenital heart defects becomes for the newborn.

"I care for kids with complex congenital heart disease on a daily basis, and I see these kids and their families enduring long hospitalizations and often sustaining serious long-term complications as a result of their disease. Usually, the cause of a heart defect is unknown. I saw this research as an opportunity to study what might be a preventable cause of congenital heart defects," said lead author Patrick M. Sullivan, MD, FAAP, clinical fellow in pediatric cardiology at Seattle Children's Hospital and a master's student in epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health.

For this study, the researchers examined records of 14,128 infants who were born with some kind of heart defect from 1989 to 2011 and records of 62,274 children who were born around the same time without any of the heart defects. When the researchers examined the children's mothers' smoking habits, they found a link.

Mothers who smoked increased their newborn's risk of having valve and vessel anomalies that carry blood to the lungs by about 50 to 70 percent. The newborns also had a 20 percent greater risk of being born with holds in their heart walls. The researchers reported that the more the woman smoked, the greater the risk.

"Women, particularly younger women, are still smoking while pregnant, despite largely successful public health efforts to reduce smoking in the general public over the past few decades," Dr. Sullivan concluded according to the press release. "Ongoing cigarette use during pregnancy is a serious problem that increases the risk of many adverse outcomes in newborns. Our research provides strong support for the hypothesis that smoking while pregnant increases the risk of specific heart defects."

The abstract of the study, "Risk of Congenital Heart Defects in the Offspring of Mothers Who Smoke Cigarettes During Pregnancy: A Population-Based Case-Control Study of Washington State Birth Certificates and Hospital Discharge Data from 1989-2011," can be found here.

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