Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Helping Babies Start Life With a Healthy Heart

(Salt Lake City, UT) – The image of a beating heart is the image of life. But many babies in Utah and across the nation are born with a congenital heart defect. These include problems with how the heart, its walls, or valves have been formed and are among the most common of all birth defects. In Utah, more than 300 babies are born with heart problems every year.

“This is an important public health concern, and our goal is to make everyone aware of possible prevention measures and early warning signs, said Amy Nance, Program Manager, Utah Department of Health (UDOH) Utah Birth Defect Network (UBDN).

As a group, birth defects are the leading cause of infant mortality in the U.S., and heart defects are the number one killer. January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and the UBDN is joining Intermountain Healing Hearts (IHH), a Wasatch Front support group that helps families dealing with the realities of a child born with heart problems.

IHH President Brytten Pettit is the mother of a child born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. She says she’s benefitted from the group and the Utah medical community.

“Today I have a happy, thriving, independent 3-year-old, and we are grateful for every day we spend together. It's no longer about counting the years, it's about making the years count!" said Brytten.

There is hope for children with congenital heart defects. Early detection and treatment can help them live longer and better. Survival has been improving in the last several decades.

There is also hope for prevention. The causes of many heart defects remain a mystery, but the UBDN, University of Utah (U of U), other groups around the country, and hundreds of Utah families are involved in studies to identify preventable causes as part of the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The heart forms in the early weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman realizes she is pregnant,” said Lorenzo Botto, M.D., a geneticist and professor of Pediatrics at the U of U “Diet, lifestyle choices, the environment, health conditions, and medications can all play a role in preventing or causing congenital heart defects,” Botto added.

Studies have shown there are several things women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant can do:
  • See a physician prior to pregnancy, especially if there are: health conditions that require medications; metabolic conditions like diabetes, obesity, phenylketonuria (PKU); or a family history of congenital heart defects.
  • Diabetic or obese women should make sure their blood sugar is under control and work toward a healthy weight through a nutritious food plan prior to conception.
  • Take a folic acid supplement and check with their health care provider to confirm they are getting adequate amounts of all the essential nutrients.
  • Avoid all alcohol and illegal/recreational drugs.
  • Avoid exposure to smoke, chemicals, and toxins both at work and at home.
  • Get regular medical check-ups and learn about their family history and potential genetic risks. 
“Small steps like visiting a health care provider before pregnancy and taking a multivitamin every day can go a long way,” said Nance.

The UBDN works with health care professionals and public health agencies around Utah to encourage prevention and awareness of congenital heart defects among women of childbearing age in the Utah. To learn more, call 866-818-7096 or visit www.health.utah.gov/birthdefect.

Media Contact:
Amy Nance
Program Manager
(801) 883-4661