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Smoking might increase heart birth defects

CHICAGO — Smoking cigarettes just before becoming pregnant and shortly thereafter might increase a woman’s risk of having a baby with a congenital heart defect by 60 to 80 percent, according to a report presented Tuesday at a meeting of the American Heart Association in Chicago.

And women who are exposed to second-hand smoke in the workplace or at home also might increase their risk of bearing infants with such defects, said Dr. Sadia Malik, a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the study’s lead author.

"We found a 30 percent higher risk of having a child with congenital heart disease if you’re exposed to cigarette smoke at home or the workplace," she said.

The heart association estimates that 35,000 infants are born each year with congenital heart defects that range from mild to life-threatening. Although the causes of most defects are not known, scientists believe that genetic susceptibilities and exposure to environmental toxins, such as alcohol, infections, various chemicals and some medications play major roles.

Cigarette smoke contains about 3,000 chemicals, and little is known about their potential for causing heart defects, Malik said. Animal studies show that some chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause mutations in the developing fetus that might lead to birth defects, she said.

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