Tell Your Doctor Everything About Your Medical History

Thousands of people who had lifesaving open heart surgery as children may face new operations because they have outgrown the original repairs.

This is the conclusion of a recent presentation at a conference that described a 34-year-old woman who'd undergone an operation at age 7 to repair a coarctation of her aorta (a narrowing in the thoracic portion of the aorta) with a synthetic patch.

As she aged, her aorta grew but the patch did not. As a result, recurrence of her aortic narrowing caused high blood pressure, chest discomfort, and pain in her legs due to inadequate blood flow.

It's hard to believe, but according to the presentation, her doctors failed to make the correct diagnosis because they did not know about her heart surgery as a child.

This story has two take-home messages:

  1. If you are one of the relatively few persons who had heart surgery as a child, the onset of unexplained new symptoms could be a warning that surgical re-repair might be needed.
  2. Every one of you should make sure your doctors have complete information about your own health history and that of your family. Answering only the questions you are asked and not volunteering additional information is good advice only if you're being tried for a crime. When talking with your doctor, don't limit yourself to answering his or her questions. Instead, volunteer any facts and concerns you feel may be pertinent.