Objectives: To examine trends in the prevalence of congenital heart defects (CHDs) in Europe and to compare these trends with the recent decrease in the prevalence of CHDs in Canada (Quebec) that was attributed to the policy of mandatory folic acid fortification.
Study design: We used data for the period 1990-2007 for 47 508 cases of CHD not associated with a chromosomal anomaly from 29 population-based European Surveillance of Congenital Anomalies registries in 16 countries covering 7.3 million births. We estimated trends for all CHDs combined and separately for 3 severity groups using random-effects Poisson regression models with splines.
Results: We found that the total prevalence of CHDs increased during the 1990s and the early 2000s until 2004 and decreased thereafter. We found essentially no trend in total prevalence of the most severe group (group I), whereas the prevalence of severity group II increased until about 2000 and decreased thereafter. Trends for severity group III (the most prevalent group) paralleled those for all CHDs combined.
Conclusions: The prevalence of CHDs decreased in recent years in Europe in the absence of a policy for mandatory folic acid fortification. One possible explanation for this decrease may be an as-yet-undocumented increase in folic acid intake of women in Europe following recommendations for folic acid supplementation and/or voluntary fortification. However, alternative hypotheses, including reductions in risk factors of CHDs (eg, maternal smoking) and improved management of maternal chronic health conditions (eg, diabetes), must also be considered for explaining the observed decrease in the prevalence of CHDs in Europe or elsewhere.
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