Staying Healthy with Adult Congenital Heart Disease

Due to advancements in medical technologies and procedures developed in the 1980s, there are now more people surviving into adulthood and living with congenital heart disease (CHD). This number is expected to grow every year and, as these patients age, they are susceptible to the same diseases as the rest of the population – heart disease, diabetes and obesity to name a few. In fact, the leading causes of death for these patients are arrhythmias, heart failure and acute heart attacks. As such, it becomes imperative that these patients are cared for with greater emphasis on preventing these problems.

Sangeeta Shah, MD, Cardiologist, Co-Director, Adult Congenital Heart Program and Director, Cardiovascular MRI, John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute, offers the following answers to questions about managing the disease.

Do I have adult congenital heart disease (ACHD)?

Adults who were born with heart problems have ACHD. Some heart problems may have required surgery, resulting in scars on their back or chest. Adults who did not require heart surgery as a child but have a bicuspid aortic valve, or a hole in their heart, also have ACHD.

What health problems are patients with adult congenital heart disease at risk for?

Adults who live with congenital heart disease are at risk for developing medical problems like obesity, type 2 diabetes, arrhythmias, heart failure and heart attacks.

What can I do to stay healthy?

The key to staying healthy is visiting an ACHD referral center, such as the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute, at least once every two years for your heart defect. Even if the defect has been repaired, it is recommended that you continue to see a specialist.

During your regular physician visits, have your doctor look for risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugars or diabetes and obesity.

How do I keep heart healthy?

Being heart healthy involves a lifestyle of a healthful diet, exercise and avoiding substance abuse. Before starting an exercise program, ask your doctor to perform an exercise stress test to confirm that your heart can handle stressful activity. Ask your doctor about any physical restriction you may have. Aim for moderate physical activity such as walking, aerobics or group fitness classes for 30 minutes, five days a week. If you have arthritis, consider activities such as swimming or yoga to limit strain on your hips and knees.

How can I lose weight?

You have to burn more calories than you eat so that your net calorie intake is negative at the end of the day.

To do this, calculate your body metabolic rate (BMR) to estimate how many calories you need each day to maintain weight. Using that number, subtract 15 - 20% calories for each 1 - 2 lbs of weight you are attempting to lose per week, based on the weight loss calculator. The goal is to get to your ideal body weight based on height.

It is important to avoid losing more than 10% of your weight in a year. Achieving weight loss results can be easier by adding in exercise. For best results, use an app on your phone or laptop, such as MyFitnessPal or LoseIt, to track calories and exercise as the day goes on.

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