From the Journals

COVID-19 often more severe with congenital heart defects



Adults with a congenital heart defect (CHD) are at increased risk for serious illness and death when hospitalized with COVID-19, making vaccination and other preventive measures even important in this population, say researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We found that hospitalized patients with heart defects are up to twice as likely to have critical outcomes of COVID-19 illness (admission to the intensive care unit, use of a ventilator to help with breathing, or death) compared to hospitalized COVID-19 patients without heart defects,” Karrie Downing, MPH, epidemiologist, with the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in an interview.

“Additionally, we learned that people with hearts defects who were older or who also had other conditions like heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, Down syndrome, diabetes, or obesity were the most likely to have critical COVID-19 illness, but children and adults with heart defects without these other conditions were still at increased risk,” Ms. Downing said.

The message for health care providers is clear: “Encourage your patients with heart defects to get vaccinated and discuss with your patients the need for other preventive measures to avoid infection that may progress to severe COVID-19 illness,” Ms. Downing added.

The study was published online March 7, 2022, in Circulation.

The researchers analyzed data on 235,638 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 between March 2020 and January 2021, including 421 (0.2%) with CHD. Most CHD patients were older than 30 years (73%) and 61% were men, with 55% non-Hispanic white, 19% Hispanic and 16% non-Hispanic Black.

Overall, 68% of CHD patients had at least one comorbidity, as did 59% of patients without CHD.

Rates of ICU admission were higher in the CHD group (54% vs. 43%), as were rates of invasive mechanical ventilation (24% vs. 15%) and in-hospital death (11% vs. 7%).

After accounting for patient characteristics, ICU admission, invasive mechanical ventilation and death were more prevalent among COVID-19 patients with rather than without CHD, with adjusted prevalence ratios of 1.4, 1.8 and 2.0, respectively.

When stratified by high-risk characteristics, prevalence estimates for ICU admission, invasive mechanical ventilation and death remained higher among patients with COVID-19 and CHD across nearly all strata, including younger age groups and those without heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, Down syndrome, diabetes, or obesity, the researchers reported.

Ms. Downing said more work is needed to identify why the clinical course of COVID-19 disease results in admission to the ICU, the need for a ventilator, or death for some hospitalized patients with CHD and not for others.

“There could be a number of social, environmental, economic, medical, and genetic factors playing a role. But staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and following preventive measures for COVID-19 are effective ways to reduce the risk of severe illness from COVID-19,” Ms. Downing said.

The study had no specific funding. The authors reported no relevant disclosures.

A version of this article first appeared on

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