Congenital heart disease linked to neighborhood pollution, poverty

Photo of a polluted street

By American Heart Association News

Infants are more likely to be born with serious heart defects if their homes are in neighborhoods that are polluted or economically deprived, a new study finds.

Congenital heart defects – abnormalities in the heart or nearby blood vessels that arise before birth – affect an estimated 1.3 million Americans. At least 8 in every 1,000 babies have some form of congenital heart problem, most of which are mild.

In the study, infants from neighborhoods classified as both the most socially and economically deprived and most polluted were 48% more likely than babies from the least deprived, least polluted areas to have a congenital heart defect. The findings took into account the potential influence of the age, race and ethnicity of the infants’ mothers.

The study shows how social disadvantage and pollution are intertwined and how difficult it is to disentangle their effects on health, said lead researcher Dr. Shabnam Peyvandi, associate professor of pediatrics, epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco. “Though each factor likely plays a role in the development of congenital heart disease, the combined effect is likely much stronger.”

The preliminary study will be presented Monday in Philadelphia at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions.

The research team, from California and Iowa, also found that in deprived neighborhoods, mothers’ health problems such as diabetes and hypertension helped account for newborns’ higher rates of heart defects.

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