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Mortality with congenital heart defects in England and Wales, 1959–2009: exploring technological change through period and birth cohort analysis
  1. Rachel L Knowles1,
  2. Catherine Bull2,
  3. Christopher Wren3,
  4. Carol Dezateux1
  1. 1MRC Centre of Epidemiology for Child Health, UCL Institute of Child Health, London, UK
  2. 2Cardiac Unit, Great Ormond St Hospital NHS Trust, London, UK
  3. 3Paediatric Cardiology, Freeman Hospital, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Rachel L Knowles, UCL Institute of Child Health, MRC Centre for Epidemiology of Child Health, London, UK; rachel.knowles{at}


Background Technological advances in surgery, intensive care and medical support have led to substantial decrease in mortality for children with congenital heart defects (CHDs) over the last 50 years.

Methods Using routinely-collected mortality and population data for England and Wales from 1959 to 2009, the authors investigated age, period and birth cohort trends in child mortality attributable to CHDs.

Results The total number of deaths with CHDs at all ages between 1959 and 2009 was 61 903 (33 929 (55%) males). Absolute numbers of CHD-related deaths in children (under age 15 years) fell from 1460 in 1959 to 154 in 2009. Infants (aged under 1 year) comprised over 60% of all deaths due to CHD during the 5-year period 1959–1963, but this fell to 22% by 2004–2008. Age-standardised death rates have declined for both sexes but, despite narrowing sex differences, males continue to have higher death rates. Successive birth cohorts have experienced improved death rates in the first year of life; however, declining mortality across all age-groups has only been observed for birth cohorts originating after 1989. Poisson regression modelling predicts continuing generational decline in mortality.

Conclusions Death rates attributable to CHDs have fallen dramatically with advances in paediatric cardiac surgery and intensive care, largely due to decreased mortality in infants aged under 1 year. Initially, mortality in later childhood rose as infant deaths fell, suggesting death was delayed beyond infancy. Children born within the last 20 years experienced lower mortality throughout childhood.

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  • Funding British Heart Foundation: MRC Special Training Fellowship MRC support to the MRC Centre of Epidemiology for Child Health.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement The data used in this study were obtained from the Office for National Statistics mortality data (public death registrations) and are available from this source.