Kids with heart defects face learning challenges, inadequate school support

February 22, 2017, American Heart Association

Children with all types of congenital heart defects face learning challenges in elementary school, but many may not be receiving adequate education assistance, according to a new study in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an American Heart Association journal.

Using North Carolina education records, birth defect registries and birth certificates, the new research examined whether congenital heart defects were associated with low scores on standard reading and math tests given at the end of third grade. The research included 2,807 born with heart defects, and 6,355 without, who completed third grade in public school between 2006 to 2012.

Researchers found:

  • Children with a , regardless of how severe their condition, had 24 percent higher odds of not meeting standards in either reading or math, compared to children without congenital heart defects.
  • Those with critical defects were 46 percent more likely to get support compared to those with less severe defects.

The research is the largest of its kind to examine the impact of potential brain deficits in U.S. children with heart defects. This study is also unique because it accounts for children with less severe congenital heart defects, said Matthew E. Oster, M.D., M.P.H., lead author of the study and pediatric cardiologist at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

It's unclear why children with heart defects struggle in school, Oster said.

"Most theories relate to factors that are most important in children with severe defects, namely surgical factors, prenatal brain development, time in an intensive care unit, or degree of hypoxia," he said. Children with milder congenital heart defects do not typically share those risk factors—however, both groups of children with congenital heart defects may share a genetic vulnerability to problems with brain development.

The study also noted that children with less severe defects are less likely to receive special education services.

"We believe this is likely due to a lack of recognition of such heart defects as a risk factor for neurocognitive challenges," Oster said.

Doctors should be aware that all children with heart defects are at risk for such problems, and ask families how children are doing in school.

"Doctors should consider formal neurocognitive evaluations when appropriate," he advised. "Schools should be aware that children with can have learning difficulties, even many years after their heart defect is supposedly 'fixed'."

Further research should follow children as they grow to detect similar academic problems beyond third grade; explore if special education can help improve their outcomes; and pinpoint the factors that affect how these children fare, Oster said.

The study findings were limited by its focus on only children in public schools, insufficient information on children who were unable to take the tests and their medical details.

Explore further: Some kids with heart defects struggle in school

Related Stories

Some kids with heart defects struggle in school

November 10, 2015
(HealthDay)—Children born with heart defects often do worse in school than their peers, a new study finds.

Increasing number of US adults living with congenital heart defects

July 5, 2016
More adults are living with congenital heart defects in the United States, creating the need for more health services and tracking systems to collect data across all ages, not just at birth, according to new research in the ...

Parents of children with serious heart defects may be at risk of PTSD

February 1, 2017
Parents of children with "critical" congenital heart defects - which require at least one cardiac surgery - are at high risk for mental health problems, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression, ...

Some heart birth defects may increase children's heart infection risk

September 23, 2013
Children with certain heart birth defects may have an increased risk for bacterial infection of their heart's lining and valves, according to new research in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Children dying preventable deaths from congenital heart disease

December 16, 2016
Over one million children are born with congenital heart disease (CHD) each year. When children with CHD receive timely treatment, 85% can survive into adulthood to live healthy, productive lives. Sadly, 90% of the children ...

Recommended for you

The molecular mechanism underlying hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

August 20, 2018
A study led by Stanford Medicine researchers shows why so many mutations associated with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart disorder, alter a key constituent of muscle cells in a way that makes it work overtime.

Chagas disease, caused by a parasite, has spread outside of Latin America and carries a high risk of heart disease

August 20, 2018
Chagas disease, caused by infection with a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi (T cruzi), causes chronic heart disease in about one third of those infected. Over the past 40 years, Chagas disease has spread to areas where it ...

Gout could increase heart disease risk

August 17, 2018
Having a type of inflammatory arthritis called gout may worsen heart-related outcomes for people being treated for coronary artery disease, according to new research.

Stroke patients treated at a teaching hospital are less likely to be readmitted

August 17, 2018
Stroke patients appear to receive better care at teaching hospitals with less of a chance of landing back in a hospital during the early stages of recovery, according to new research from The University of Texas Health Science ...

Cardiovascular disease related to type 2 diabetes can be reduced significantly

August 16, 2018
Properly composed treatment and refraining from cigarette consumption can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease resulting from type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in the New England Journal of ...

Genomic autopsy can help solve unexplained cardiac death

August 15, 2018
Molecular autopsies can reveal genetic risk factors in young people who unexpectedly die, but proper interpretation of the results can be challenging, according to a recent study published in Circulation.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.