Background: Documenting the prevalence and trends of congenital heart defects provides useful data for pediatric practice, health-care planning, and causal research. Yet, most population-based studies use data from the 1970s and 1980s. We sought to extend into more recent years the study of temporal and racial variations of heart defects occurrence in a well-defined population.
Methods: We used data from the Metropolitan Atlanta Congenital Defects Program, a population-based registry with active case ascertainment from multiple sources. Heart defects were identified among liveborn infants up to 1 year old, among stillborn infants, and among pregnancy terminations to mothers residing in metropolitan Atlanta.
Results: From 1968 through 1997, the registry ascertained 5813 major congenital heart defects among 937 195 infants, for a prevalence of 6.2 per 1000. The prevalence increased to 9.0 per 1000 births in 1995 through 1997. The prevalence of ventricular septal defects, tetralogy of Fallot, atrioventricular septal defects, and pulmonary stenosis increased, whereas that of transposition of the great arteries decreased. For some defects, prevalence and trends varied by race.
Conclusions: The prevalence of congenital heart defects is increasing. Whereas most findings likely result from improved case ascertainment and reporting, others might be because of changes in the distribution of risk factors in the population. The basis of the racial variations is incompletely understood.