Adolescent Transitional Cardiac Care

Our specialists care for adolescents and young adults ages 12 to 21 who have acquired or congenital heart disease. We help with transitions to adult care to avoid any lapse in treatment.

Doctor and adolescent patient
Confident diverse kids standing together

UCLA Health approach to adolescent transitional cardiac care

Specialists in the UCLA Adolescent Transitional Cardiac Care Program help children with heart disease transition from pediatric to adult care. Our goal is to empower teens and young adults ages 12 to 21 to manage their own care while avoiding potential lapses in care. Our team is part of the UCLA Health Division of Heart and Vascular Services, which U.S. News & World Report ranks No. 9 in the nation for cardiology. 

Highlights of our Adolescent Transitional Cardiac Care program include:

Lower risk of emergencies: Patients who participate in our program have a lower risk of disruptions in medical care, such as missing treatments or running out of medications. In turn, the transitional cardiac care service also helps patients avoid emergency care.

A range of resources: Physicians, nurse coordinators and social workers assist families with navigating questions about California Children’s Services (CCS) coverage and services. They also connect families with counseling, referrals and community resources.

Efficient care transitions: A major aspect of our program is identifying the adult cardiology providers that our patients will start working with. We establish this connection early so that young adults don’t waste time finding a new provider when they turn 21. This service follows the best practices recommended by the American Heart Association and American Academy of Pediatrics.

Support for long-term wellness: Our specialists can identify and educate patients about how heart disease affects reproductive health, gynecologic care, sexual health and birth control options. We help teens understand these implications early so they can make decisions that support their health long-term.

What is congenital heart disease?

The Adolescent Transitional Cardiac Care Program is for teens and young adults with heart disease. Congenital heart disease is a term that refers to one or more problems with the heart’s structures that have been present since birth. Another term for congenital heart disease is congenital heart defect. People with congenital heart disease need lifelong medical care to maintain their heart health and lower their risk of complications.

There are many types of congenital heart defects. Some of the most common types include:

Atrial septal defect: People are born with a hole in the wall (septum) between the heart’s two upper chambers (atria). This may cause no symptoms, or it may lead to rapid heartbeats (palpitations), shortness of breath, fatigue or leg swelling. 

Bicuspid aortic valve: The aortic valve has only two valves instead of the typical three. The aortic valve controls blood flow from the heart to the aorta, the main artery that pumps blood throughout the body. A bicuspid valve may not close or open as it should, leading to blocked blood flow or blood leaking (regurgitation).

Hypoplastic left heart syndrome: The left side of the heart doesn’t form as it should. As a result, it can’t pump blood throughout the body.

Long QT syndrome: In this heart rhythm disorder, the heart “recharges” for longer than usual between beats, leading to a fast or irregular heartbeat.

Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA): Every baby is born with an opening between the aorta, which sends blood from the heart to the body, and the pulmonary artery, which sends blood to the lungs. If the opening doesn’t close as it should soon after birth, too much blood flows to the lungs. Small openings might not cause any symptoms. Large PDAs may cause rapid heartbeats, difficulty feeding, poor weight gain, heart murmurs or repeat respiratory infections.

Patent foramen ovale (PFO): PFO is a hole between the left and right upper heart chambers (atria) that’s present in all fetuses. In most people, the hole closes before birth. In people with PFO, this hole doesn’t close as it should. PFOs often don’t cause any symptoms but may lead to migraines or stroke-like symptoms.  

Pulmonary atresia: The pulmonary valve, which controls blood flow from the heart to the lungs, doesn’t form properly. As a result, it’s difficult for blood to get oxygen from the lungs.

Tetralogy of Fallot: This is a combination of four heart defects that often occur together and make it difficult for blood to flow throughout the heart. The defects include a ventricular septal defect, a narrowing of the pulmonary valve and artery, an enlarged aortic valve and a thick lower right heart chamber (right ventricle).

Ventricular septal defect: People are born with a hole in the wall (septum) between the heart’s two lower chambers (ventricles). Babies may experience symptoms such as rapid breathing, bluish-tinted skin, poor weight gain and poor feeding.

What is acquired heart disease?

Acquired heart disease refers to heart conditions that develop after birth. They are uncommon in children, but may develop because of an illness, chronic disease or medication. Types of acquired heart disease in children include:

Cardiomyopathy: This disease occurs when the heart muscle stiffens or thickens. It is very rare in children. There are several types of cardiomyopathy that make it harder for the heart to pump blood effectively.   

Heart inflammation: Autoimmune diseases, viral infections or cancer may lead to heart inflammation. Children may have an inflamed heart muscle (myocarditis) or they may have inflammation in the sac surrounding the heart (pericarditis). In rare cases, an infection may spread to the heart valves (endocarditis).

Kawasaki disease: Kawasaki disease causes inflammation in the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart (coronary arteries). It may lead to a bulge in the artery walls, known as an aneurysm. Kawasaki disease is one the most common causes of acquired heart problems in children.

Rheumatic heart disease: This type of heart disease develops because of rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever is extremely rare and often causes inflammation in the heart, skin, joints and brain. It may also cause problems with the heart valves, including narrowing, scarring or leaking.

Heart disease treatments and services we offer

Our specialists care for adolescents and young adults with heart disease from age 12 to 21. We offer a range of cardiac services, including:

  • Diagnostic tests
  • Medical management of heart disease
  • Interventional cardiac catheterization and electrophysiology services
  • Heart surgery
  • Heart and lung transplantation

We also help with transitional cardiac care from teen to adult care, including:

  • Connecting teens and families with psychosocial support services, career guidance and counseling 
  • Educating teens and their families on how heart disease affects gynecology, contraception, childbearing and sexual health
  • Helping teens understand their diagnosis and develop a life plan to identify educational, social and career goals
  • Providing teens with the self-management skills necessary to navigate the health system on their own
  • Supporting parents during the transition from pediatric to adult care

Meet our team

Our team provides expert cardiovascular care for teens with congenital heart disease. We also connect teens and young adults with adult cardiology providers and help them learn to navigate the medical system on their own. Our comprehensive services lower the risk of care lapses that could lead to emergencies.

Transitional Cardiac Care Support Staff

Ashley Abuel RN, BSN is the Outpatient Nurse Coordinator and the coordinator for California Children Services (CCS). She is available to patients and their families to answer questions about CCS coverage and services. In addition, she can help coordinate a patient’s care with any services they might need.

Sylvia Villasenior, clinical social worker for pediatric cardiology, provides a number of services to patients and their families, including counseling and obtaining community health/mental health/social services.

Pediatric Cardiology Team Members

In addition to the Cardiology team, many other health professionals are available to you when you have a medical problem that isn't related to your heart such as colds, cough or upset stomach.

Contact us

Call 310-267-7668 to request an appointment with an adolescent transitional cardiac care specialist at UCLA Health.

Find your care

Patients with acquired or congenital heart disease often require lifelong cardiology care. Call 310-267-7668 to learn more about adolescent transitional cardiac care.