Congenital Heart Disease

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The critical time for prevention of a congenital heart defect is before a woman becomes pregnant and during the first trimester of pregnancy. Prior to pregnancy, every woman should confirm that she is immune to rubella. If she is not certain she's been vaccinated, she should be tested and vaccinated if she shows no immunity. During pregnancy, every woman should take a multivitamin that contains 400 micrograms of folic acid on a daily basis.

All women should avoid using street drugs during pregnancy and try to avoid viral infections, especially those of the upper respiratory tract.

Women also should control their exposures to the following during pregnancy:

  • Alcohol
  • Prescription medications, especially lithium and those drugs that treat acne and seizures
  • X-rays and strong chemicals, such as solvents

Women with diabetes, phenylketonuria (PKU), or seizures should consult their doctors before attempting to conceive. The risk to the developing fetus can be minimized or eliminated through proper management of this condition. Women with PKU may need to follow a special diet before pregnancy and during the first trimester.

Couples who have other children or a relative with congenital heart disease may want to consider genetic counseling before trying to conceive. Genetic counseling can advise parents of the likelihood of having a baby with congenital heart disease.

Last reviewed on 2/11/2009

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