According to a new statement, mental health support is essential for people with congenital heart defects. Researchers found that those who received mental health care were less likely to experience anxiety and depression and had a better quality of life. The findings underscore the importance of providing mental health support to all patients with heart defects, regardless of their age or surgical history.
More than 2.4 million people are living with congenital heart defects (CHD) in the United States. CHD occurs when people are born with structural abnormalities of the blood vessels involving the heart or with the heart itself. Catheter interventions and surgery are often required to address these issues, but it does not cure CHD. Most people with CHD need multiple operations and specialty heart care throughout life.
The new statement from the American Heart Association is the first of its kind to summarize the social and psychological challenges throughout life and to review age-appropriate mental health interventions to help improve quality.
According to the statement, children with more complex CHDs have a 5-times higher rate of receiving an anxiety diagnosis compared to children without CHD. For adults with CHD, the rate of experiencing anxiety or mood disorders is about 50%, compared to 30% of adults in the general population.
“It’s completely understandable to have a psychological reaction to living with a congenital heart defect. The condition presents numerous challenges throughout the lifespan and may include unexpected news—such as a person realizing they can no longer physically manage the demands of their job or learning that there are significant risks to pregnancy,” said Adrienne H. Kovacs, Ph.D., chair of the writing committee for the scientific statement.
“Many people with CHD have tremendous resilience in the face of these challenges. At the same time, we want to normalize psychological reactions and increase the prevalence of care for psychological well-being to help people with CHD experience a full and healthy life.”
The statement strongly suggests that mental health professionals should be integrated into the CHD care teams. Mental health care approaches should also be explained to CHD patients, including self-care strategies, relaxation techniques, and talk therapy. For those experiencing severe depression, heart-safe medication therapy may be needed under doctor supervision.
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