For Teens

Lifestyle Choices & Risky Behavior

You may want to ‘forget’ about your CHD or do what other teens are doing to feel normal.

Risky behaviors are risks for all teens, but these can be especially dangerous when you have a congenital heart defect or heart disease.

Who can I talk to?

There is always someone you can talk to help you when you are struggling with how you are feeling, or when you are faced with decisions that may have a more negative impact on you than others in your peer group.

  • Parents may not always be your first thought for confiding your feelings, but consider talking openly to your parents about what you are experiencing. They understand your condition and can understand how you feel.
  • Talk to your cardiologist or other health care provider on your care team. Members of your care team can speak to you in private so you can ask questions about alcohol, drugs, or other behaviors. Your conversations here are private and you can talk openly with your doctors about any concerns you may have.
  • It’s okay to talk to a counselor, especially one who specializes in adolescent medicine. These conversations are always private unless there is concern about self-harm. Their job is to help you feel better and to protect you.

Remember that you, your family and your care team have spent years making sure you are healthy, can grow up strong, and lead a normal life. This makes you different and may require different choices.

Learn more about the specific challenges associated with these risky behaviors for people with CHD:

Drinking alcohol may seem like something many teens experiment with, and you may think – what’s the harm? Because you have CHD, you have additional risks that could result in short or long term problems specific to your condition. Consider that drinking alcohol may:

  • Worsen your heart condition
  • Increase symptoms like palpitations
  • Create potential interactions with your medication
  • Lead to an increased risk for impaired liver function

Highly caffeinated energy drinks are pretty universal, and may seem harmless, but be aware of the special health risks they may pose when you have CHD. Overuse of energy drinks has been identified as a cause of palpitations which could lead to an arrhythmia. This could cause fatigue, dizziness, fainting, or other symptoms requiring urgent care.

Most teens know the risk of smoking cigarettes. It is important to be aware that you face additional risks associated with smoking, including problems with circulation and potential blood vessel damage. It can interfere with drug levels from medications in the body, impacting your treatment.

Vaping is a new concern because many people feel that it is safer than smoking, but it as harmful and may be even more harmful in the short term. Vaping has been shown to lead to a higher risk of stroke, heart attack and coronary heart disease, which can be even more dangerous for someone with CHD.

Over-the-Counter (OTC) medications – These drugs used to treat headaches, fevers, allergies and colds are generally safe, but you should check with your cardiologist first.

Herbal remedies – The ingredients in herbal remedies are often unclear, as are the recommended doses. Such herbal remedies could interact with heart medications. Check with your cardiologist before taking any herbal remedies.

Prescription medications – If you are taking prescribed medication, it should be managed through your care team. If for any reason a prescription is not coordinated with your care team make sure you check with your cardiologist on any interactions with other medications.

Street drugs are dangerous for anyone because they are not used as prescribed, are not regulated and may contain toxins, or are known to cause addiction. Because you have CHD, these drugs can also decrease the effectiveness, increase the side effects, and/or cause new side effects of your heart medication.

Drugs such as cocaine can cause heart attacks, irregular heart rhythms, high blood pressure & inflammation of the heart in individuals without a heart condition, which makes them especially dangerous for those who do.

Other drugs, such as marijuana, are often seen as more normalized, but these drugs can have ingredients that make them more potent and potentially more harmful. Any drugs can impair judgment and cause poor judgement resulting in injury or death.

If you have CHD and get piercings and/or tattoos, you are at an increased risk of bacterial endocarditis (inflammation of the heart) and other infections. Check with your cardiologist before getting any piercings.


Healthy Lifestyle & Healthy Heart

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