Preeclampsia Linked To Increased Risk of Congenital Heart Defects

Nathalie Auger MD MSc FRCPC Crémazie Est Montréal, Québec Interview with:
Nathalie Auger MD MSc FRCPC

Crémazie Est
Montréal, Québec 

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Auger: Congenital heart defects are the most common defects found in infants, but the causes are for the most part unknown. Only about 15-20% can be linked to a clear cause, such as a genetics or maternal infection.  Recently, certain imbalances of angiogenic signaling proteins that control blood vessel development have been identified in individuals with congenital heart defects. Similar imbalances in the same biomarkers have been observed in women with preeclampsia, a serious complication of pregnancy that occurs in 3-5% of pregnant women. Because of this similarity, we sought to determine the relationship that preeclampsia has with the presence of congenital heart defects in infants.

What we found was that there was a significant association between preeclampsia and congenital heart defects. In particular, preeclampsia that was diagnosed before 34 weeks of pregnancy was significantly associated with critical and noncritical heart defects and seemed to be the driving factor. There was increased risk for defects involving all general structures of the heart, although the absolute risk of congenital heart defects was low (16.8 per 1,000 infants).

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Auger: This is the first study that provides evidence of a relationship between preeclampsia and congenital heart defects, but more research is necessary before changes in clinical practice are made. Pregnant women with preeclampsia shouldn’t view these results as evidence that their infants are destined to have a congenital heart defect. Rather, both clinicians and patients should just be aware that some increased risk exists.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Auger: The results of this study provide evidence that preeclampsia and congenital heart defects may both be the result of a similar underlying pathology that affects both the mother and the fetus. More research is needed to further investigate this relationship in order to better understand the origins of preeclampsia and congenital heart defects. Increasing our knowledge of how these conditions begin will provide us more opportunities for prevention or early interventions to decrease the negative consequences of preeclampsia and heart defects.


Auger N, Fraser WD, Healy-Profitós J, Arbour L. Association Between Preeclampsia and Congenital Heart Defects. JAMA.2015;314(15):1588-1598. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.12505.

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Nathalie Auger MD (2015). Preeclampsia Linked To Increased Risk of Congenital Heart Defects

Last Updated on October 21, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD