Children: the hidden victims of heart disease

[Kathy Cassidy/Flickr]

Between 6,500 and 8,000 children are born with heart defects in France every year. [Kathy Cassidy/Flickr]

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in a child’s early months. Up to 8,000 children are born with heart disease in France each year. reports.

The French Federation of Cardiology (FFC) has published a white paper on cardiovascular health, detailing the issues surrounding congenital heart disease and how best to tackle them.

Congenital defects are the commonest, and deadliest, form of heart disease in infants, affecting between 6,500 and 8,000 newborns every year in France alone.

Although blood-vessel treatments or surgical intervention can often be effective in dealing with these defects, at least 85% of the infants affected will continue to suffer in later life.

Advances in foetal ultrasound mean that defects can be more easily diagnosed during pregnancy, allowing doctors to offer the right treatment at an early stage in the infant’s life, and thus improving their chances of growing into a healthy adult.

Check-ups into adulthood

On reaching adulthood, many patients no longer benefit from care specific to their congenital illness, and it is often only after serious complications later in life that they are brought back under their initial medical regime.

The FFC recommends that infants suffering from congenital heart defects be monitored in specialised medical centres as they grow up, but very few doctors, including cardiologists, are experts in congenital heart disease.

>> Read: New cardiovascular disease treatments urgently needed, experts say

“All the adults concerned should be offered life-long monitoring by a cardiologist specialised in congenital conditions,” the FFC stated, adding that the lack of specialists was a problem. They identified only around 60 congenital specialists in France.

According to the white paper, inadequate monitoring of patients can lead to complications later in life such as heart rhythm disorders, high blood pressure or even heart failure.

Across Europe, heart disease is responsible for around 4 million deaths each year, almost half of which are within the EU, according to the European Society of Cardiology.

Monitoring young women particularly important

Some congenital heart defects can present serious problems to women of child-bearing age, greatly increasing the risk of death during pregnancy or childbirth. Although the death toll among pregnant women is falling, heart disease accounts for 15% of all deaths during childbirth in France.

>> Read: Study: Women more likely to die from heart diseases than men

The FFC recommends that young women with congenital heart problems pay greater attention to the methods of contraception they use, and that they seek a cardiologist’s advice before conceiving a child.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer are by far the biggest causes of death in the world, accounting for 60% of deaths.

Around four million people in Europe and 1.5 million in the European Union die each year from heart disease, according to the European Heart Network (EHN) and the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). The commonest forms of heart disease are coronary diseases and strokes.

French federation of Cardiology

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