Because congenital heart disease can be mild or severe, treatment options vary. Your doctor may suggest a treatment to attempt to correct the heart defect itself, or treat complications caused by the defect. Treatments your doctor may recommend include:
- Regular checkups. Relatively minor heart defects may require only periodic checkups with your doctor to make sure your condition doesn't worsen.
- Medications. Some mild congenital heart defects can be treated with medications that help the heart work more efficiently.
- Special procedures using catheters. Some congenital heart defects can be repaired using catheterization techniques, which allow the repair to be done without surgically opening the chest and heart. In procedures that can be done using catheterization, the doctor inserts a thin tube (catheter) into a leg vein and guides it to the heart with the help of X-ray images. Once the catheter is positioned at the site of the defect, tiny tools are threaded through the catheter to the heart to repair the defect.
- Open-heart surgery. If catheter procedures aren't enough to fix your heart defect, your doctor may recommend open-heart surgery. These surgeries are major medical procedures and may require a long recovery time.
- Heart transplant. If a serious heart defect can't be repaired, a heart transplant may be an option.
Follow-up care is important
One of the biggest myths many adults with congenital heart disease have is they no longer have to worry about congenital heart disease. Many think they've either outgrown their condition or that treatment they had as a child cured them. But this is rarely true.
If you have congenital heart disease, even if you've had surgery as a child, you're not cured. This doesn't mean you face a lifetime of problems. However, it does mean you're at increased risk of developing complications, such as infections of the heart (endocarditis) or dangerous abnormal heart rhythms. Some problems might require surgical treatment as you get older.
If you had your congenital heart defect or congenital heart disease treated as a child, it's important to have lifelong follow-up care, especially if you had corrective heart surgery. This follow-up care could be as simple as having periodic checkups with your doctor, or it may involve regular screenings for complications. The important thing is to discuss your care plan and make sure you follow all recommendations.
Ideally, your care will be done by cardiologists trained in following adults with congenital heart defects. This may be a challenge for some because there's currently a shortage of cardiologists with such expertise, as well as a limited number of centers that specialize in following adults with congenital heart disease.
Congenital heart disease and pregnancy
Women with congenital heart disease who wish to become pregnant should talk with their doctors before becoming pregnant. They should discuss possible risks, as well as any special care they might need during pregnancy. Most women with congenital heart disease have normal pregnancies.
It's important for both men and women, who could conceive, to know that if they have congenital heart disease, there's an increased risk of passing on some form of congenital heart disease to their children. Your doctor may suggest genetic counseling to help you predict the risk of passing on inherited forms of congenital heart disease.
May. 13, 2011
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