Thanks to advancements in technology and research, individuals with congenital heart disease are living longer and healthier lives than ever before. But for women looking to have children, careful planning is essential for a healthy pregnancy, according to a paper recently published in the European Heart Journal.
Congenital heart defects are the most common types of birth defects in the United States, affecting nearly 1% of all births each year. Depending on severity, congenital heart defects may be serious and require surgery and treatment, while others may heal on their own. The good news is that most children born with heart defects go on to live normal and healthy lives, leading many women with congenital heart disease wondering if it’s safe for them to get pregnant.
As experts explain, the medical field of pregnancy in women with heart disease is ever-changing. Through research, we continue to learn more about congenital heart disease and how these conditions affect pregnancy, delivery and the health of both mother and baby. While risk associated with pregnancy varies depending on the severity of a woman’s heart condition, there’s no question that planning should always be the first step for women considering pregnancy.
When considering pregnancy, women with congenital heart disease should always discuss options with their doctors. Guidelines recommend that women first meet with experienced cardiologists, obstetricians and specialists to receive an assessment and counseling. Together, experts can help assess the patient’s condition and identify any risks associated with pregnancy.
To assess risk, doctors will take into account the type of congenital heart disease along with factors like age and medical history. Based on a risk assessment, doctors can then determine how risky a pregnancy is for the patient now and in the future and what treatments can help minimize those risks. For example, congenital heart disease may increase risk for heart failure and stroke, but certain medications can help reduce those risks. Doctors will also take into account the potential risks to the baby, which can vary.
Based on a risk assessment, counseling is then key to helping women understand the potential risks to both her and the baby’s health. With this information, women can then make a well-educated decision that is best for them. Depending on their decision, women should then work closely with their doctor to create a plan moving forward. For women deciding to embark on pregnancy, there should be a clear follow-up plan to promote a healthy pregnancy and delivery. Women deciding against pregnancy should also work closely with their doctor to avoid risks of pregnancy. Through careful planning, women with congenital heart disease can work with doctors to control their condition and make the best possible decision related to pregnancy.