southtownstar
DYNAMIC 
Weather Updates

To Your Health: Program targets adult congenital heart disease

Gail Prokop is nurse practitioner with newly formed Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program Advocate Christ Medical Center Oak Lawn.

Gail Prokop is the nurse practitioner with the newly formed Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

storyidforme: 40027705
tmspicid: 14777584
fileheaderid: 6739974

Updated: December 15, 2012 6:17AM



Congenital heart disease refers to diseases of the heart that are present at birth.

These defects typically occur while the heart is forming and involve abnormal development of the structures of the heart.

While there are more than 30 different types of congenital heart disease, the most common defects involve holes in the heart, missing or misaligned blood vessels that transport blood between the heart and lungs, missing or malformed heart valves and problems with the actual pumping chambers of the heart. Frequently, an individual will have multiple defects occurring at the same time.

Congenital heart defects can range from simple, minor defects that correct themselves over time or don’t require any treatment to complex and severe abnormalities that are fatal without expert treatment or surgical repair.

In the past, patients with moderate and complex congenital heart defects did not live normal lives. As children, these patients had severe physical restrictions and many did not survive into adolescence, even with aggressive treatment.

Advances in medical procedures and technology have drastically changed the lives of those with congenital heart disease.

Since the 1980s, the mortality rate for moderate and complex heart defects has dropped dramatically. Patients with congenital heart disease are living longer, stronger and healthier lives.

In fact, as a result of these medical advances, there are more adults living with congenital heart disease than children. While this is great news, transitioning out of adolescence is not the end of the congenital heart defect road.

“Adults with congenital heart defects need specialized heart care throughout their lives,” said Dr. Joel Hardin, medical director of the Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program at Advocate Christ Medical Center and Advocate Children’s Hospital.

The congenital heart surgeries and interventions done in childhood did not permanently “fix” the heart problems; they made them better, for an unknown length of time, he said.

“As adults live longer lives, they can develop additional complications related to their original heart defects” Hardin said.

Long-term problems adults often develop include abnormal heart rhythms, decreased exercise tolerance and fatigue.

Adults with complex defects are at higher risk of stroke, heart failure and even sudden cardiac death. Unfortunately, many of these complications can develop slowly and without symptoms so by the time symptoms do appear, the heart is already severely damaged. Once the heart damage becomes severe, it may not be reversible. When detected and treated early on, most complications can be effectively treated and heart function preserved.

Because of the serious complications that can develop as adults age, patients need to continue to seek the expertise of providers who are knowledgeable with not only the structural heart defects like their pediatric cardiologists, but also with expertise in the long-term complications and the potential problems that can develop when they reach their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond.

Fortunately, while this new population of adults with congenital heart disease grows larger and lives longer, there are specially trained experts and equipped centers available to care for them.

At adult congenital heart disease centers, patients benefit from a team approach. In addition to physicians, there are technicians trained in performing specialized echocardiograms and other diagnostic testing, social services and career counseling. Nurse practitioners help patients understand their disease, assist patients in navigating through the healthcare system and link patients with resources in the healthcare system and in the community.

Adults with a heart defect should seek at least an initial evaluation at a center to assure they are maximizing their heart health and anyone who had heart surgery as a child should be monitored for specific complications.

People who have moderate or complex heart disease should be seen regularly by specialists, while those with mild disease may only need to be seen every few years after an initial evaluation. Fortunately, for area residents, these services are available in the Southland.

Gail Prokop is the nurse practitioner with the newly formed Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.