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Heart disease cases rise fourfold

THE incidence of congenital heart disease on China's mainland is four times that of 20 years ago and has been the top birth defect since 2005, local medical experts said yesterday.

Though the exact cause of the disease is still unknown, heredity, the environment, smoking and drinking, virus infection and medication during pregnancy are all believed to influence fetal heart development.

The Shanghai Primary Prevention Consulting Center for Birth Defects was established yesterday to enable further study into birth defects.

"Primary prevention is extremely effective and important to prevent and control newborn defects from the earliest stage," said Dr Ma Duan of the center.

About 1 million children on China's mainland are born with defects every year, 20 percent of the world's total. Some 6,000 such children are born in Shanghai each year.

Congenital heart disease, extra fingers or toes, cleft lip and palate, neural tube defects and hydrocephalus are the top five birth defects on China's mainland.

Congenital heart disease rose from the fifth prevalent birth defect with 6.2 in every 10,000 newborn babies in 1996 to the top defect with a fourfold incidence in 2005. It has been at the top since then and affected 25.1 in every 10,000 babies in 2007.

"There are some 9,000 birth defects. We still don't know the exact genetic causes of most defects," Ma said. "But proper lifestyle, premarital checks, pre-pregnancy exams and prenatal screening can help prevent birth defects."


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