The concept of risk factors was popularized by research on adult cardiovascular diseases to mean clinical characteristics (e.g. obesity, hypertension, cigarette smoking) and laboratory findings (e.g. cholesterol levels) which are associated with the disease process and permit preventive interventions to reduce the occurrence of heart attacks and stroke.

In contrast to the disorders of aging, the origin of congenital cardiovascular malformations cannot be sought in terms of a single disease process. Instead, we are dealing with a multitude of developmental alterations induced by an infinite number of genetic and environmental effects. However, the recognition of cause-related subgroups could lead to preventive interventions within the community and in the care and practices of prospective parents.