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Congenital Heart Defects in Adults

Topic Overview

Adults with congenital heart defects can live long, full, and active lives. But they are different from adults with other heart problems like coronary artery disease. They typically have unique issues with things like health insurance, birth control, pregnancy, and employment.1, 2

Health care

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

Employment

Most adults with congenital heart defects don't have limitations on what kind of job they can have. But before you start career planning, get an expert opinion from your doctor about your physical capabilities and risk for future heart problems. With this information, you can make realistic choices and get appropriate training.

Some adults with congenital heart defects may be restricted from certain types of jobs because of the potential risks to others in the event that they aren't able to carry out their duties because of physical problems. But this doesn't mean that you should otherwise be restricted in your employment options.

Although very few adults with congenital heart defects are considered disabled, employers may negatively assess an adult's capabilities because of false ideas about the condition. Become informed about your legal rights. For example, your health status should not be part of a job interview. Also, in the United States, you have some protection with federal regulations, such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999.

Health insurance

It is important to maintain health insurance, because you need regular medical checkups.

People with heart defects may have problems qualifying for health insurance. Many companies restrict or deny coverage for new clients with preexisting heart conditions.

If you are changing health insurance plans or applying for new coverage, be aware that you might have difficulties. Research your options carefully before changing policies, and find out whether you may qualify for state or federal assistance programs.

Depending on the circumstances, some adults with congenital heart defects may only be able to get health insurance through an individual plan. Although many adults have some form of group coverage through their employers, they may be placed in a high-risk category and have to pay higher premiums than other people. Be sure to investigate all your options thoroughly. Laws that govern these types of health insurance issues and policies change often.

Endocarditis prevention

A congenital heart defect can raise the risk of an infection in the heart called endocarditis. To prevent this infection, you might take antibiotics before you have dental and surgical procedures that could put bacteria or fungi into your blood. The antibiotics lower the risk of getting endocarditis.

Ask your doctor and dentist if you need antibiotics before procedures.

Also, take good care of your teeth and any types of infections.

Birth control options

If you have a congenital heart defect, you also will need to carefully consider 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. In general:

  • Barrier devices (condoms, diaphragms) are safest.
  • Birth control pills that contain estrogen may not be recommended because of the risk of blood clots.

Pregnancy

Both women and men with a congenital heart defect need to think about a few things when planning a pregnancy. These include the risk of passing a heart defect to your child as well as the possible health risks of a pregnancy in a woman with a heart defect.

For more information, see Congenital Heart Defects: Pregnancy.

Exercise and sports

Most adults with congenital heart defects don't have exercise restrictions. But restrictions on the intensity or type of exercise might be needed. This will depend on the type of defect and/or how severe it is. If you have restrictions, you can still be active and enjoy a healthy lifestyle.

For more information, see Congenital Heart Defects: Exercise and Sports.

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. Warnes CA, et al. (2008). ACC/AHA 2008 Guidelines for the management of adults with congenital heart disease: Executive summary: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation, 118(23): 2395–2451.
  2. Sable C, et al. (2011). Best practices in managing transition to adulthood for adolescents with congenital heart disease: The transition process and medical and psychosocial issues: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 123(13): 1454–1485.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Larry A. Latson, MD - Pediatric Cardiology
Last Revised October 11, 2011

Last Revised: October 11, 2011

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