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Heart Disease - Risk Factors for Congenital Heart Defects

The causes of most congenital heart defects are not known. Risk factors associated with increased incidence of defects include the following:

  • Medications taken during pregnancy: Certain medications taken during pregnancy, such as the acne drug Accutane (isotretinoin), lithium or anti-seizure medications have been linked to congenital heart defects, especially when taken during the first trimester. Accutane should be discontinued at least one month prior to becoming pregnant.
  • Alcohol and drugs: The use of alcohol and recreational drugs, such as cocaine, during pregnancy have been linked to congenital heart defects in children.
  • Viral infections: Infections during pregnancy such as rubella (German measles) may cause heart defects in children, especially if the infection occurs during the first trimester. Immunizations are recommended before pregnancy to protect against specific infections.
  • Disease during pregnancy: Diabetes and other diseases affecting the mother can increase the risk of heart defects in children.
  • Genetic conditions: Down’s syndrome and phenylketonuria in the mother (PKU, absence of the enzyme necessary to metabolize phenylalanine to tyrosine) are associated with congenital heart defects in children. Family incidence of congenital heart disease increases the risk by 50%.

Updated: February 2011