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According to a recent study, babies born to Latino, low-income, or limited-English-speaking parents are more likely than white babies to receive a congenital heart disease diagnosis later in life or lack a prenatal diagnosis at all.

The most prevalent kind of birth defect is congenital cardiac disease, which is characterized by structural abnormalities of the heart. The Journal of Pediatric Cardiology reported the findings.

According to experts, the findings highlight the need of providing treatment for Latino and low-income families as well as newborns born to parents whose first language is not English amid America's fight against structural racism in the health care system.

Though fetal interventions are limited, early prenatal diagnosis helps parents plan and make decisions around pregnancy, said co-author Dr. Alicia Chaves, a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical System. It also allows clinicians to plan ahead for treatments soon after birth, USA Today reported.

According to Chaves, prenatal diagnoses are linked to better outcomes, and babies without them are more likely to have adverse events after birth.

A newborn's heart anatomy is impacted by congenital heart abnormalities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are numerous forms, the majority of which are mild, such as a small hole in the heart that heals, to types that substantially impair heart function.

A critical congenital cardiac problem affects approximately 1 in 4 newborns, meaning they may require surgery or other procedures throughout their early years.

A fetal echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the developing baby's heart, is often reserved for high-risk situations, such as expectant moms with a family history of heart problems or problems found during normal ultrasounds.

Therefore, Chaves and her colleagues noted, "if routine obstetric screening ultrasound does not detect CHD, it can result in a lack of referral or late referral" for a fetal echocardiogram, delaying the discovery of congenital heart disease.

Researchers analyzed records of 163 babies who had surgical intervention within a month of birth at the University of Maryland Children's Hospital from 2011 to 2020.

They found the following.

  • Compared to their white counterparts, babies born to Latina moms were 3.2 times less likely to receive a prenatal diagnosis.
  • Babies born to mothers with a preferred language other than English were five times more likely to lack a prenatal diagnosis than those born to English speakers.
  • The average time it took for non-English-speaking women to acquire a prenatal diagnosis was five weeks later than it was for English-speaking patients.
  • Low socioeconomic neighborhood residents received their diagnoses up to 3.4 weeks later.

The findings add to mounting evidence of disparities in the diagnosis of fetal cardiac defects. According to earlier research, patients with public insurance, those with lower incomes, and those who are Hispanic or live in rural areas were less likely to receive prenatal diagnostics for specific congenital heart problems.

Along with language barriers, access to prenatal care could also be a factor fueling these disparities. Disadvantaged mothers may be less likely to be insured, which can delay their access to prenatal care and in turn delay or cause missed diagnosis, Chaves said.

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