What Causes Heart Defects in Babies? Exploring the Most Common Causes and Their Impact on Children

What Causes Heart Defects in Babies? Exploring the Most Common Causes and Their Impact on Children


Heart defects in babies are a common and serious concern, affecting approximately 1 in every 100 newborns. These congenital heart defects (CHDs) are structural problems that arise during fetal development and can range from mild to life-threatening. Understanding the most common causes of heart defects in babies is essential for parents and healthcare providers alike. In this article, we'll delve into these causes and discuss how they can impact children's lives.

1. Genetic Factors

One of the primary causes of heart defects in babies is genetic. Specific gene mutations and chromosomal abnormalities can increase the risk of CHDs. Some common genetic factors include:

  • Down Syndrome: About half of babies with Down Syndrome have CHDs. Down Syndrome is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21, which can lead to structural heart issues like atrial septal defects and ventricular septal defects.
  • Turner Syndrome: Girls with Turner Syndrome are missing one of the two X chromosomes, which increases their risk of developing coarctation of the aorta and bicuspid aortic valve.
  • 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome: This genetic condition—also known as DiGeorge Syndrome—results from a small deletion on chromosome 22. It can lead to tetralogy of Fallot and other complex heart defects.

2. Environmental Factors

Environmental factors can also contribute to heart defects in babies. Exposure to certain chemicals, medications, or infections during pregnancy can increase the risk of CHDs. Some common environmental factors include:

  • Rubella (German Measles): If a pregnant woman contracts rubella during her first trimester, it can lead to serious heart defects in the baby, such as pulmonary stenosis or patent ductus arteriosus.
  • Certain Medications: Some medications—like anti-seizure drugs and certain acne medications—can increase the risk of heart defects in babies when taken during pregnancy.
  • Alcohol and Drug Use: Pregnant women who consume alcohol or use drugs like cocaine can increase the risk of heart defects in their babies.

3. Maternal Health and Lifestyle

A mother's health and lifestyle choices during pregnancy can also contribute to heart defects in babies. Factors that may increase the risk of CHDs include:

  • Diabetes: Poorly controlled diabetes in the mother can increase the risk of heart defects in the baby.
  • Obesity: Obesity during pregnancy can increase the risk of several birth defects, including CHDs.
  • Smoking: Smoking during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of heart defects in babies, such as septal defects and right-sided obstructive lesions.

4. Impact of Heart Defects on Children

The impact of heart defects on children can vary widely depending on the severity of the defect, its location, and the presence of other health issues. Some potential impacts include:

  • Breathing Difficulties: Babies with heart defects may have trouble breathing, requiring supplemental oxygen or even mechanical ventilation.
  • Growth Delays: Children with CHDs may experience growth delays due to reduced oxygen and nutrient delivery to their bodies.
  • Heart Failure: Severe heart defects can lead to heart failure, a condition in which the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body's needs.
  • Developmental Delays: Children with heart defects may experience developmental delays in motor, cognitive, and social skills due to reduced oxygen levels in the brain.
  • Frequent Hospitalizations: Children with heart defects may require frequent hospitalizations for monitoring, treatment, and surgery.
  • Lifelong Medical Care: Depending on the severity of the defect, children may require ongoing medical care, including medications, cardiac procedures, or even heart transplant.

While heart defects in babies can be a significant cause for concern, early detection and intervention can greatly improve the quality of life for affected children. Prenatal screening and regular pediatric care can help identify heart defects early, allowing healthcare providers to develop appropriate treatment plans and offer support for the entire family. However, not everyone has reliable access to this crucial care.

The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) continues to provide humanitarian aid and medical relief to children and their families through our pediatric cancer departments, humanitarian aid programs and projects, pediatric mental health initiatives, hospital infrastructure projects, orphan and refugee sponsorships, medical sponsorships, treatment abroad program, and medical missions. These efforts help to ensure that children in need get the vital assistance they require, like treatment for congenital heart defects through out “Healing Hearts” program.


The “Healing Hearts” Program in Palestine started in 1998 when we brought an American team to Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem to operate on babies born with heart defects. Since then, thousands of volunteer doctors and nurses from all over the work have volunteered their time and expert skills to save the lives of thousands of babies in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, as well as to build a program that will develop sustainability and independent care for the hundreds of children born each year in Palestine with congenital heart disease. Our goal is to develop diagnostic, surgical, and post-operative care for these children, as well as to train local staff and provide infrastructural support.

PCRF is not a political or religious organization. Our mission is to provide medical and humanitarian relief collectively and individually to Arab children throughout the Middle East, regardless of their nationality, politics, or religion. We rely on charitable giving to provide medical treatment, surgeries, safety, shelter, and support to children and their families in Palestine and the Levant. Find out how you can get involved and help make a difference in children’s lives today!