The study involving 41 patients, aged five to 18 showed that the use of cardiopulmonary bypass does not cause short-term neurological problems in children and teenagers after surgery.
'This is good news for school-aged children who receive surgery for these less complex heart defects,' said study leader Michael D. Quartermain, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
All the patients had milder forms of congenital heart disease usually characterized by an abnormal heart valve or by a hole between the heart's chambers.
Previous studies of survivors of more complex heart surgery have found neurological problems, such as impaired motor development, lower IQ scores and reduced language skills.
In the current study, researchers compared 41 pediatric heart patients who underwent CPB to a control group receiving non-heart-related surgery without CPB.
Neurological and developmental testing were performed two weeks before and six months after surgery in both groups.
The researchers found no significant difference between the two groups in IQ scores and tests of memory, motor skills or attention. Neither of the surgical groups showed a decline in neuropsychological scores after surgery.
"It is often challenging for the cardiologist to determine the optimal time to refer a child without symptoms to the operating room for repair of an underlying congenital heart defect," said Quartermain.
"It is now clear that the potential neurodevelopmental sequelae of cardiopulmonary bypass in this group of school-aged patients should not be a major factor in this important decision," he added.
The study was presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions in New Orleans.