Lifestyle Choices & Risky Behavior

Teen/Young Adult Lifestyle Choices

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Smoking 
  • Drug Use: Over the Counter medications (OTC), herbal remedies, and ‘street drugs’
  • Piercings/Tattoos

Risky Behaviors

As a teen, you may be curious about some of the things that you see happening at school or with your peer groups. You may want to “fit in”, but also know that these behaviors are especially dangerous when you have a Congenital Heart Defect.

Alcohol

Experimentation with alcohol during adolescence is common
Adolescents with CHD face additional risks associated with alcohol use, including:
  • Worsening of their heart condition 
  • An increase in symptoms like palpitations 
  • Potential interactions with their medication
  • An increased risk for impaired liver function

Caffeinated & Energy Drinks

  • While not alcoholic, high caffeinated energy drinks may still pose a threat to the health of a teen with CHD. Overuse of energy drinks is not healthy and can cause palpitations which could lead to an arrhythmia.

Smoking

  • Don’t do it! It is never healthy. 
  • Adolescents with CHD face additional risks associated with smoking, including: circulation problems & possible blood vessel damage. Smoking can also have an effect on drug levels from medications in the body.

Drug Use

  • Over-the-Counter (OTC) medications 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. 
  • Street drugs – Street drugs can decrease the effectiveness, increase the side effects, and/or cause new side effects of your heart medication and should not be taken. For example, cocaine can cause heart attacks, irregular heart rhythms, high blood pressure & inflammation of the heart in individuals without a heart condition. And marijuana can impair judgment and has side effects similar to smoking. 

Piercings/Tattoos

  • 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. 

Who can I talk to?

  • Consider talking openly to your parents – they were once kids too! 
  • Talk to your cardiologist. Ask to speak to your cardiologist in private and ask questions about alcohol, drugs, etc. Your conversations here are private and you can talk openly with your doctors about any concerns you may have. 
  • Talk to a counselor specializing in adolescent medicine (the conversations are private unless self-harm is suspected).