Prenatal exposures and congenital heart defects in Down syndrome infants

David E Fixler, Norma Threlkeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to determine whether there are important differences in maternal and environmental prenatal risk factors between liveborn Down syndrome infants with congenital heart defects and Down syndrome infants without heart defects. Using a case control study design, we evaluated the risk associated with maternal illness, drug ingestion, substance usage, and chemical exposures in the home or workplace. The period of risk selected was 3 months before and 3 months after the last menstrual period, because cardiac development occurs early, before the mother may become aware of her pregnancy. Because fetal survival in Down syndrome may be move vulnerable to various exposures, controls were selected who also had trisomy 21. Of 171 infants studied, 89 were cases with congenital heart disease, and 82 were controls without heart disease. All interviews were performed by one nurse practitioner using a structured standardized questionnaire. Cases and controls had similar maternal ages, family incomes, parental education levels, and contraceptive practices before pregnancy. No differences were found between case and control mothers for maternal illness, medication use, or consumption of caffeinated beverages, cigarettes, or alcohol. Reporting of recreational drug usage was infrequent, may reflect underreporting, and did not differ between cases and controls. Maternal exposures were commonly reported for pesticides (50%), hair dyes (22%), craft paints (8%), varnishes (7%), and solvents (3.5%). However, in none of the categories was maternal exposure significantly more prevalent among case mothers than among control mothers. The failure of this study to identify risk factors for cardiac malformations may be attributable to the small differences in reported frequencies reducing statistical power or to the possibility that cardiac malformation in Down syndrome is a direct result of chromosomal duplication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6-12
Number of pages7
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Embryology
  • Toxicology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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