Declining Incidence of Postoperative Neonatal Brain Injury in Congenital Heart Disease

J Am Coll Cardiol. 2023 Jan 24;81(3):253-266. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2022.10.029.


Background: Brain injury is common in neonates with complex neonatal congenital heart disease (CHD) and affects neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Objectives: Given advancements in perioperative care, we sought to determine if the rate of preoperative and postoperative brain injury detected by using brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and associated clinical risk factors have changed over time in complex CHD.

Methods: A total of 270 term newborns with complex CHD were prospectively enrolled for preoperative and postoperative brain MRIs between 2001 and 2021 with a total of 466 MRI scans. Brain injuries in the form of white matter injury (WMI) or focal stroke and clinical factors were compared across 4 epochs of 5-year intervals with logistic regression.

Results: Rates of preoperative WMI and stroke did not change over time. After adjusting for timing of the postoperative MRI, site, and cardiac group, the odds of newly acquired postoperative WMI were significantly lower in Epoch 4 compared with Epoch 1 (OR: 0.29; 95% CI: 0.09-1.00; P = 0.05). The adjusted probability of postoperative WMI declined significantly by 18.7% from Epoch 1 (24%) to Epoch 4 (6%). Among clinical risk factors, lowest systolic, mean, and diastolic blood pressures in the first 24 hours after surgery were significantly higher in the most recent epoch.

Conclusions: The prevalence of postoperative WMI has declined, whereas preoperative WMI rates remain constant. More robust postoperative blood pressures may explain these findings by minimizing periods of ischemia and supporting cerebral perfusion. These results suggest potential modifiable clinical targets in the postoperative time period to minimize the burden of WMI.

Keywords: brain injury; congenital heart disease; neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain Injuries* / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Injuries* / epidemiology
  • Heart Defects, Congenital* / epidemiology
  • Heart Defects, Congenital* / surgery
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Postoperative Complications* / diagnostic imaging
  • Postoperative Complications* / epidemiology
  • Stroke / epidemiology