(HealthDay News) — Preeclampsia may increase risk of congenital heart defects, according to research published in the October 20 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Nathalie Auger, MD, of the University of Montreal, and colleagues analyzed medical records from 1,942,072 infants born in Quebec between 1989–2012. A total of 72,782 mothers had preeclampsia.

The researchers found that, overall, infants born to mothers with preeclampsia had a higher prevalence of critical heart defects: just over 0.1%, vs. roughly 0.07% among infants whose mothers did not have preeclampsia. The higher risk did appear limited to women who’d developed preeclampsia earlier – before the 34th week of pregnancy; however, preeclampsia was linked to milder heart defects regardless of when it arose during pregnancy. About 1.5% of infants born to mothers with preeclampsia had a non-critical heart defect, compared with 0.8% of other infants.

Auger stressed the importance of taking folic acid before and during early pregnancy. “It’s already recommended for preventing neural tube defects,” she told HealthDay. “And there is also some evidence that it lowers the risk of congenital heart defects.”

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