06:04am Friday 05 June 2020

Twins more likely to suffer from congenital heart disease

A study by experts at Newcastle University, published in the journal Heart and funded by the British Heart Foundation, highlights the importance of antenatal scans.  

Normally, only identical twins share a placenta – even then each twin may have its own. Identical twins are known to have an increased risk of congenital heart disease compared to single births.

The research, undertaken by PhD student Kate Best and led by Professor Judith Rankin, from Newcastle University’s Institute of Health and Society, used information of more than 400,000 pregnancies occurring between 1998 and 2010.

The data was collected by the Northern Survey of Twin and Multiple Pregnancies (NorSTAMP) and the Northern Congenital Abnormality Survey (NorCAS) held at Public Health England’s Regional Maternity Survey Office.

Scientists found that 13 in every 1,000 twins were born with some type of congenital heart disease, compared to seven in every 1,000 single births.

It was also identified that twins who share a placenta in the womb are particularly at risk, with 20 in every 1,000 twins sharing a placenta being born with a congenital heart disease compared to 11 in every 1000 twins with separate placentas.

Judith Rankin (pictured), Professor of Maternal and Perinatal Epidemiology at Newcastle University, said: “The unique information from two surveys in the North of England has enabled us to show the higher risk of a congenital heart disease for twins and, in particular, for those that share a placenta. This information will be incredibly helpful to parents and health professionals.

“Not all congenital heart diseases can be detected before birth but for those that can, this research demonstrates the importance of antenatal scans and the information they can provide to prepare for the best care possible when the baby is born.”

Around two thirds of identical twins share a placenta, and this depends upon when the fertilised egg splits to form two embryos after conception.

Heart defects 

Most congenital heart defects are found after the child is born, however heart problems can be picked up when the mother has an ultrasound scan during pregnancy.

During a 19 week scan, Rachel Sullivan found out that one of her twin daughters, Emily, was suffering from a congenital heart disease. Nine year-old  Emily was born with coarctation of the aorta and has had three open heart surgeries to repair her heart.

Rachel said: “Emily’s heart condition was caught by chance, whilst her doctors were looking for evidence of a separate condition.

“Knowing about Emily’s condition before she was born meant that the doctors delivering her could intervene as soon as she was born and give her the best chance of survival. This research shows just how important it is to be looking out for heart conditions in mothers expecting twins, so that as much can be done as possible to give them a fighting chance at life.”

Professor Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said the study highlights the importance of regular check-ups and antenatal scans for mothers expecting twins.

He said: “This careful survey of all births in the north of England over 12 years confirms previous studies showing that twins have a higher risk of being born with a congenital heart disease than single births.”

Press release adapted with thanks from the British Heart Foundation

Key Facts:

  • Newcastle University is a Russell Group University
  • Ranked in the top 1% of universities in the world (QS World University Rankings 2014)
  • Ranked 16th in the UK for global research power (REF 2014)
  • Ranked 10th overall in the UK and 3rd for quality of staff/lecturers in the Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey 2015
  • Winner: Outstanding Leadership and Management Team and Outstanding Procurement Team, Times Higher Leadership and Management Awards 2015
  • Amongst our peers Newcastle is:
    • Joint 6th in the UK for student satisfaction
    • Ranked 1st in the UK for Computing Science research impact, 3rd in the UK for Civil Engineering research power and 11th in the UK for Mathematical Sciences research (REF 2014)
    • Ranked 8th in the UK for Medical and Life Sciences research quality (REF 2014)
    • Ranked 3rd in the UK for English, and in the top 12 for Geography, Architecture and Planning, and Cultural and Media Studies research quality (REF 2014)
    • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) top 20 strategic partner
  • 94% of our students are in a job or further training within six months of graduating
  • We have a world-class reputation for research excellence and are spearheading three major societal challenges that have a significant impact on global society. These themes are: Ageing, Sustainability, and Social Renewal
  • Newcastle University is the first UK university to establish a fully owned international branch campus for medicine at its NUMed Campus in Malaysia which opened in 2011
  • 90% Satisfaction level from our international students (ISB 2014)
  • Newcastle University Business School is one of 21 Triple Accredited Business Schools in the UK

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