OBJECTIVES: Collection and assessment of data from the Emilia-Romagna Region on the occurrence of congenital heart defects in order to identify an homogeneous group of patients for further aetiologic and genetic studies. MATERIALS AND METHODS: The present study is based on 1549 stillborn and live born babies affected by congenital heart defect out of 330,017 consecutive births (4.7 per 1000). RESULTS: The frequency and type of congenital heart defects have been identified together with the sex ratio, associated extracardiac anomalies, chromosomal anomalies and the risk of precurrence in relatives. The impact of prenatal diagnosis on prevalence was low during the study period. CONCLUSIONS: The study has provided epidemiological data for public health surveillance of congenital heart defects in the Emilia-Romagna region. The creation of a system for the nationwide recording of congenital heart defects designed with regard to the sources of ascertainment, the diagnostic criteria, and the system of classification is emphasised.
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