Know your pill
Women with heart defects need to be cautious about pregnancy and birth control choices.

According to research involving 536 German women born with heart defects found that nearly half had not been counselled about their risks related to contraception and pregnancy. What's more, of the women with contraindications to using birth control pills, 20% were currently taking them.

The findings point to a need for greater awareness among both women and their doctors of the risks certain contraceptives present for women whose hearts are already compromised researchers report in the American Journal of Cardiology.

Many women with heart conditions can safely become pregnant or use contraceptives to prevent pregnancy. But certain severe congenital heart conditions raise the risks both of pregnancy complications and adverse effects from various birth control options.

In the German study group, roughly one third of the women had contraindications to using birth control pills containing estrogen and progesterone, which can cause blood clots and raise blood pressure in some users.

That included women with conditions considered "absolute" contraindications to using the Pill, such as severe heart failure; cyanotic heart defects, which limit the circulation of oxygen throughout the body; a history of blood clots; and a rare heart defect called Eisenmenger's syndrome that is marked by high blood pressure in the lungs (known as pulmonary hypertension).

The group also included women with "relative" contraindications to oral contraceptive use, including smoking and arterial high blood pressure.

Of these at-risk women, 34 or nearly 20% were nonetheless currently using the Pill.
In addition, 43% of the women overall said they had never been counselled about birth control.

An even larger proportion of the group was unaware that pregnancy would also present special risks for them  48% said their doctors had never talked with them about pregnancy or any pregnancy related risks associated with their condition.

During pregnancy, a woman's blood volume and heart rate increase, putting an increased strain on the organ. Women with certain heart conditions, including severe heart failure, cyanotic heart defects and Eisenmenger's are considered to be at high risk of complications.

Sixty women in the current study fell into this high-risk group, 39 of whom were of reproductive age and sexually active. Of these, 28% were not using any birth control at all.

It is not surprising that so many women in the study lacked any counselling on pregnancy and contraception, according to senior researcher Dr. Harald Kaemmerer, of the German Heart Center Munich.

The area of "adult congenital heart disease"  that is, caring for adults who have survived inborn heart defects is new even within the field of cardiology, he told Reuters Health in an e-mail. Many doctors, including gynaecologists, may not be aware of the specific pregnancy related issues related to the various types of congenital heart defects, Kaemmerer explained.

Besides birth control pills, certain other contraceptives may carry risks for some women. It is not clear, for example, whether intrauterine devices (IUDs) might pose a risk of endocarditis an infection of the lining of the heart in vulnerable women, such as those who have had a heart transplant.

Do you know whether your contraceptive is risk-free?

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