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Learning About Living Well With a Congenital Heart Defect

How can a congenital heart defect affect your life?

With a congenital heart defect, you may be used to doing the things that help keep your heart healthy, like taking medicines. There are many types of defects. Some are more severe than others. Yours may affect your life a lot or very little. You might have unique issues with things like birth control, pregnancy, and employment.

But there are things that everyone with a heart defect can do to stay healthy and have a full and active life. Adults have some extra things to do to be healthy and live well. These include getting regular checkups, having a heart-healthy lifestyle, and knowing what restrictions may be needed on the type or intensity of physical activities.

How can you live well with a congenital heart defect?

Here are some things you can do to help you live well when you have a congenital heart defect.

Get regular checkups.

Adults who have heart defects need routine checkups. Be sure you have a family doctor. You might also need to see your cardiologist regularly, such as once a year.

Prevent endocarditis.

Heart defects can increase your risk of an infection in your heart. Talk to your doctor about your own risk. You may need to take antibiotics before certain dental or surgical procedures to prevent infection. Also, take good care of your teeth. Treat any infections promptly.

Be physically active.

People with heart defects can be active and get regular exercise. Most don't have to limit exercise. But some may need to restrict the type or intensity of exercise. This depends on the type of the defect and how severe it is. Your doctor can tell you if you should limit activity or sports. But if you do have restrictions, you can still be active and enjoy a healthy lifestyle.

Lead a heart-healthy lifestyle.

This means that you:

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and low-fat or non-fat dairy foods.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Be active on most, if not all, days of the week. Ask your doctor first to see if you need to limit activity.
  • Lose weight if you need to, and stay at a healthy weight.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Manage other health problems such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Get recommended vaccines, such as the influenza (flu) vaccine.

Birth control and pregnancy

If you are a woman, carefully think about the type of birth control you use. You will want to use a form that poses the lowest risk to your health. Talk with your family doctor, gynecologist, or cardiologist about the right option for you.

Both women and men with a congenital heart defect need to think about a few things when planning a pregnancy. For example, what is the risk of passing a heart defect to your child? And what are the possible health risks of a pregnancy if you are a woman with a heart defect?

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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