Sudden unexpected death in children with congenital heart defects

Eur Heart J. 2016 Feb 14;37(7):621-6. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehv478. Epub 2015 Sep 4.


Aims: Congenital heart defects (CHDs) are the most common birth defects and are an important cause of death in children. The fear of sudden unexpected death has led to restrictions of physical activity and competitive sports. The aim of the present study was to investigate the rate of sudden unexpected deaths unrelated to surgery in children 2-18 years old with CHDs and, secondarily, to determine whether these deaths were related to cardiac disease, comorbidity, or physical activity.

Methods and results: To identify children with CHDs and to determine the number of deaths, data concerning all 9 43 871 live births in Norway in 1994-2009 were retrieved from the Medical Birth Registry of Norway, the Cardiovascular Disease in Norway project, the Oslo University Hospital's Clinical Registry for Congenital Heart Defects and the Norwegian Cause of Death Registry. Survivors were followed through 2012, and information for the deceased children was retrieved from medical records at Norwegian hospitals. Among 11 272 children with CHDs, we identified 19 (0.2%) children 2-18 years old who experienced sudden unexpected deaths unrelated to cardiac surgery. A cardiac cause of death was identified in seven of these cases. None of the children died during physical activity, whereas two children survived cardiac arrest during sports.

Conclusion: Sudden unexpected death was infrequent among children with CHDs who survived 2 years of age. Comorbidity was common among the children who died. This study indicates that sudden unexpected death in children with CHDs rarely occurs during physical activity.

Keywords: Cardiology; Congenital heart defect; Mortality; Sport; Sudden unexpected death.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures
  • Cause of Death*
  • Child
  • Death, Sudden
  • Heart Defects, Congenital*
  • Humans
  • Registries