College with Congenital Heart Disease

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​College with Congenital Heart Disease

​Tips for Supporting College-Age Patients Through the Transition

Patients born with a congenital heart defect (CHD) are living longer with congenital heart disease (CHD) because of better pediatric cardiology care and surgeries. As a result, there are more students with CHDs entering college than ever before. College can be demanding for anyone, but attending college with a CHD can present its own challenges.

While a student living with CHD can be successful at college, there are considerations to keep in mind when CHD patients are away at school:

  • Alcohol and drugs can lead to arrhythmias and heart failure.

  • Some CHD patients may have exercise restrictions.

  • Some forms of contraception can be dangerous for some female CHD patients.

  • Patients with CHDs are at a higher risk of neurodevelopmental disabilities, which can impact learning.

  • Caffeine can promote arrhythmias.

Tips for Staying Heart Healthy

There are ways patients and their cardiologists can prepare for the college transition. Helping Your CHD Patients Prepare for College: Top ‘To-Dos’ (PDF) and College as a Student with a Congenital Heart Defect: Top Things to Know (PDF) have been developed to assist with the transition. Both handouts provide tips on how to prepare for college with a CHD and what to do while at college to ensure that patients stay heart healthy. Information for parents is also available as they partner with both providers and young adults through the transition process. 

Working with College Health Providers

Students may turn to college health providers for medical care. It is important to that college health providers be aware of student’s CHDs so that they can monitor symptoms and signs that may be a result of CHD complications. They can also help facilitate the transition to adult providers of the students are attending college away from home. 

​​​A case study College students with congenital heart disease: A critical time for transition (Journal of American College Health, April 2018) tells the story of a college student who visited the college health clinic because of persistent headaches. As it turns out, the headaches were a result of high blood pressure associated with complications from the patient’s CHD. In addition to the patient’s story, the authors of the case study discuss some of the unique challenges that college health providers may face when caring for students with CHDs. 

College can be an exciting time with a lot of rewards. With a little help, CHD patients can be sure to make the most of their time at college. 

Additional information regarding congenital heart defects and lifelong cardiac care is available at the CHPHC website, The CHPHC is housed at the American Academy of Pediatrics through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an effort to utilize public health principles to affect change for those whose lives are impacted by a CHD. Organizational members of the Consortium represent the voice of providers, patients, families, clinicians and researchers.

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