About the Northern Ireland Baby Hearts Study

The study aims to contribute to the primary prevention of congenital heart disease in Northern Ireland by determining the extent to which specific maternal health, lifestyle and behavioural factors are associated with the risk of having a baby with congenital heart disease (CHD).

The Baby Hearts study is a collaborative project being conducted by a research teams based at the Ulster University and the Paediatric Cardiology Department of the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.

Every year in Northern Ireland (NI) over 200 babies are born with (CHD). In most cases the cause of the problem is not known. Approximately 2 per 1,000 babies (50 per year in NI) require surgery in the first year of life for severe CHD lesions, with the remaining cases requiring a range of treatments from catheter insertions to other paediatric cardiology treatment and care.

Some CHD lesions resolve spontaneously with few later implications for the child. The vast majority of children with CHD survive to adulthood, but many will have complex needs associated with co-morbidities (including other types of heart disease) and pregnancy, and will face social and economic challenges, including employment and insurance issues.

The main part of the project is a case-control study designed to investigate risk and protective factors for CHD.  This will be accompanied by a prevalence study which will describe the prevalence, distribution and clinical spectrum of CHD in Northern Ireland and will help us to estimate the proportion of preventable CHD with specific risk factors. From our findings we will make recommendations which we hope will help to prevent CHD in the future.

This study has been funded by Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke. It has received additional support from Children's Heartbeat Trust.