In a notable twist on conventional wisdom, a new American Heart Association scientific statement on managing pregnancy in patients with complex congenital heart disease (CHD) supports the notion that most women with complex CHD can have a successful pregnancy and normal vaginal delivery. To optimize outcomes, the statement notes, care should be collaborative and involve both a high-risk obstetrician and a cardiologist versed in CHD.
The new guidelines alter the idea that patients with complex CHD should avoid pregnancy out of concern about potential risks to the mother and child.
A stepped plan for complex pregnancies
“This is an excellent statement that provides a much-needed framework for caring for these patients, covering everything from pre-pregnancy counseling to pregnancy care to post-delivery care,” says obstetrician Jeff Chapa, MD, Head of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Cleveland Clinic.
The guidelines provide a stepped assessment plan for general cardiologists to follow.
“The process makes it easy to assess risk prior to pregnancy, determine the frequency of follow-up needed once the patient becomes pregnant and identify the level of disease that warrants tertiary care,” says Dr. Chapa. “Knowing the changes that will occur can help with risk stratification and provide an idea of how well a patient is likely to do.”
Cardiologist David Majdalany, MD, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Adult Congenital Heart Disease Center, trained under several members of the writing group behind the AHA guidelines, so he found no surprises in the document. But he’s delighted that a summary of the latest recommendations is finally at the disposal of all providers.
“Until now, we had only bits and pieces of information from various papers primarily written on individual defects,” Dr. Majdalany explains. “These guidelines coalesce what we know in a detailed document that discusses the pros and cons of pregnancy by every class of congenital lesion. This is very helpful.”
Validated by experience
The new guidelines’ recommendations align with the experience of Drs. Chapa and Majdalany in Cleveland Clinic’s Cardio-Obstetrics Clinic, where a high-risk obstetrician and a CHD cardiologist co-manage patients, with support from colleagues in virtually every subspecialty available when needed.
The decision of whether to proceed with a vaginal delivery is made jointly. “For example, with defects such as aortic root dilation, the patient is at risk for aortic dissection, so we would suggest avoiding natural delivery in such a case,” Dr. Majdalany notes.
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