Science

Congenital Heart Disease In Women: Successful Pregnancy Still Possible

By Allan Alforte , Jan 14, 2017 05:15 AM EST
SYDNEY, NSW - JUNE 07: A pregnant woman holds her stomach June 7, 2006 in Sydney, Australia. Australia is currently enjoying a baby boom, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics registering a 2.4% increase in births from 2004 to 2005, which represents the highest number of births since 1992. The Australian Federal Government has been encouraging people to have more babies, with financial incentives and the slogan by treasurer Peter Costello to 'have one for mum, one for dad, and one for the country'. The Federal Government has identified falling fertility rates and the ageing population as long-term problems for Australia's growth and prosperity. (Photo : Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

Women with congenital heart disease can still have healthy pregnancies with the help of an experienced team of healthcare providers. Women with serious congenital heart defects should work closely with their doctors before, during and after the pregnancy according to the American Heart Association.

According to Dr. Jamil Aboulhasn, a cardiologist at AHA, in the past, women who were born with congenital heart conditions were told that they would never be able to have babies. But according to Dr. Aboulhasn, who is based at California, Los Angeles Medical Center, that old way of thinking has evolved. Recent studies have shown that those women can generally have healthy pregnancies when they work with an experienced team of health care providers.

According to Mary Canobbio, a registered nurse who led the committee that formed the new recommendations, the key to it is planning. Pregnancy planning is a must, according to Canobbio. She is also a lecturer at UCLA School of Nursing. Ideally, talks of the pregnancy should come early before the woman is ready to have a baby. In this way, the woman is made aware of how the pregnancy could affect her own health and that of the future baby.

The risks of managing the pregnancy will vary from woman to woman. Dr. Aboulhasn explains that the risks depends on the particular heart condition and the woman's overall health. A person with a small hole in the heart that was surgically corrected and is in good shape, functioning and exercising well, will do relatively fine during pregnancy.

On the other hand, there are more complicated cases of heart defects. Dr. Aboulhosn cited as an example a woman who was born with two large holes in her heart. She now has high blood pressure affecting the arteries in the lungs and becomes blue from exertion and has shortness of breath, obviously her case is different.

Women who have congenital heart defects have greater risks of miscarriages, preterm labor and poor fetal growth as compared to normal women. In general, the strains of pregnancy can raise the risks of complications such as arrythemias or heart failure as reported in an article by Health 24.

The medical team can anticipate problems that may happen during pregnancy and after delivery. It was recommended by the authors that the women should deliver their babies at centers that an experienced cardiologist who have dealt with complex cases of congenital heart diseases, obstetricians who are trained in maternal-fetal medicine and a cardiac surgical team. Monitoring the mother after delivery is also important because the effects of pregnancy could linger for as long as six months according to an article by Health Canal.

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