People born with heart defects need lifetime mental health care

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Scientists from the American Heart Association suggest that people born with heart defects face a higher risk for anxiety and mood disorders as children and adults and should have mental health support built into their routine health care.

The report is published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes and was conducted by Adrienne H. Kovacs et al.

The scientific statement is an urgent call to action to integrate medical and psychological care for people born with heart defects and is the first to summarize the psychological and social challenges they face.

People with congenital heart defects, or CHD, have hearts or blood vessels near the heart that did not develop normally before they were born.

Though most people with such problems survive to adulthood, they may need multiple surgeries and specialty care throughout their lives. More than 2.4 million people in the U.S. are living with CHD.

According to the statement, children with complex heart abnormalities are five times more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder during their lifetime.

Yet only a small fraction of children with CHD are assessed or treated for mental health issues. About half of adults living with CHD are diagnosed with mood or anxiety disorders.

The statement highlights issues related to each life stage. During infancy, babies may experience painful or frightening medical procedures and be separated from caregivers for extended periods.

This can make them hypersensitive to light and sound, cause problems with eating or sleeping, or lead to developmental delays.

Additional hospitalizations and surgeries and the added responsibility of having to manage their health during childhood and adolescence can mean less time to play or attend school.

This can lead to social withdrawal, anxiety, depression, anger, and defiance. As adolescents, they also may stop following health recommendations or display risky behaviors.

Adults may experience new or worsening heart symptoms, repeat surgeries, or other heart problems during adulthood, which can cause financial difficulties or issues with insurance and family planning.

This can lead to relationship problems, education or employment issues, and worries about maintaining good health and the possibility of dying.

The statement suggests integrating mental health specialists with CHD specialty care teams; encouraging self-care strategies such as relaxation techniques, and prescribing heart-safe medication therapy for anxiety and depression when appropriate.

If you care about mental health, please read studies about mental health drug that may harm your brain health, and doing this can reduce depression relapse.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about how COVID affects the heart, and results showing drinking coffee this way can help prevent stroke, and heart disease.

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