International Perfusion Association


Cerebral Microhemorrhages in Children with Congenital Heart Disease: Prevalence, Risk Factors, and Impact on Neurodevelopmental Outcomes

Background: Infants with complex congenital heart disease (CHD) require life-saving corrective/palliative heart surgery in the first weeks of life. These infants are at risk for brain injury and poor neurodevelopmental outcomes. Cerebral microhemorrhages (CMH) are frequently seen after neonatal bypass heart surgery, but it remains unknown if CMH are a benign finding or constitute injury. Herein, we investigate the risk factors for developing CMH and their clinical significance.

Methods: 192 infants with CHD undergoing corrective cardiac surgery with cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) at a single institution were prospectively evaluated with pre-(n = 183) and/or postoperative (n = 162) brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). CMH severity was scored based on total number of microhemorrhages. Antenatal, perioperative, and postoperative candidate risk factors for CMH and neurodevelopmental (ND) outcomes were analyzed. Eighteen-month neurodevelopmental outcomes were assessed using the Bayley-III Scales of Infants and Toddler Development in a subset of patients (n = 82). Linear regression was used to analyze associations between risk factors or ND outcomes and presence/number of CMH.

Results: The most common CHD subtypes were hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) (37%) and transposition of the great arteries (TGA) (33%). Forty-two infants (23%) had CMH present on MRI before surgery and 137 infants (85%) post-surgery. No parameters evaluated were significant risk factors for preoperative CMH. In multivariate analysis, cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) duration (p < 0.0001), use of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) support (p < 0.0005), postoperative seizure(s) (p < 0.03), and lower birth weight (p < 0.03) were associated with new or worsened CMH postoperatively. Higher CMH number was associated with lower scores on motor (p < 0.03) testing at 18 months.

Conclusion: CMH is a common imaging finding in infants with CHD with increased prevalence and severity after CPB and adverse impact on neurodevelopmental outcomes starting at a young age. Longer duration of CPB and need for postoperative ECMO were the most significant risk factors for developing CMH. However, presence of CMH on preoperative scans indicates non-surgical risk factors that are yet to be identified. Neuroprotective strategies to mitigate risk factors for CMH may improve neurodevelopmental outcomes in this vulnerable population.

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