Background The success of cardiac surgery has created a new group of patients: those with ‘adult congenital heart disease’ (CHD) who may need specialist advice about contraception and pregnancy. The study objective was to investigate whether women with CHD were receiving appropriate advice on contraception.
Methods The study setting comprised a combined adult CHD and contraception and sexual health clinic operating alongside each other, once a month, at Freeman Hospital, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. Data were collected on 46 consecutive female patients attending the clinic between April 2002 and October 2003.
Results Sixteen of the 46 (35%) women had never discussed contraception with a health professional. Nine of these women were sexually active and were using condoms. Seven of these women chose to start hormonal contraception following consultation. Ten of the 30 (33%) women who had previously discussed contraception with either their general practitioner or family planning clinic had received inappropriate advice. Of these 30 women, 24 needed contraception: 12 (50%) continued with their current method, 10 (42%) started hormonal contraception having previously used either condoms or no contraception and two (8%) changed their current hormonal method to a more effective long-term method (progestogen-only pill to progestogen implant). There had been eight unplanned pregnancies in seven patients. There was poor knowledge among the women about long-acting hormonal methods, particularly progestogen injectables and implants.
Conclusions Our experience has highlighted the substandard provision of sexual health services for adults with CHD. Many of these women receive either no advice or inappropriate advice about contraception. Suitable effective reversible methods are often denied by health professionals who are concerned about the safety of hormonal contraceptives in women with ‘heart problems’. Preconception advice and birth control information should be given to all female patients with CHD, as correct information will avoid the potential risks of an unplanned pregnancy. A monthly regional combined clinic staffed by a cardiologist and family planning doctor provides the ideal opportunity for education of patients and health professionals alike. Good practice is then disseminated across specialities and into the community, encouraging multidisciplinary guidelines and pathways of referral to be developed.
- congenital heart disease
- long-acting reversible contraception
- sexual health services
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