Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Learning About Severe Ventricular Septal Defect in Newborns

Main Content

Learning About Severe Ventricular Septal Defect in Newborns

Hole in septum between right and left ventricles of heart

What is a ventricular septal defect?

A ventricular septal defect is a type of congenital heart disease. Congenital heart disease refers to heart problems a baby is born with. These heart problems are usually diagnosed at or before birth.

The heart is a muscular pump with four chambers. The two bottom chambers—the left ventricle and the right ventricle—are separated by a wall of tissue called a septum. A ventricular septal defect is a hole in this wall.

A very small hole may not cause problems. It may close on its own.

When the hole is large, some of the blood may flow through it from the left ventricle to the right ventricle. So the heart may pump too much blood to the lungs. Over time, this can damage the lungs and weaken the heart.

Your baby may need special care, such as being in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). This may be scary for you. The hospital staff understands this. They will explain what happens and will answer your questions.

How is a ventricular septal defect diagnosed?

Your doctor may hear abnormal heart sounds, such as a heart murmur, when examining your newborn.

Your doctor will order tests to find the cause of abnormal sounds or of symptoms. The most common test used to diagnose this problem is called an echocardiogram, or "echo" for short. It uses sound waves to make an image of your baby's heart.

Your baby may have other tests to find the problem, such as an EKG (electrocardiogram) or a chest X-ray. Another test may look at the amount of oxygen in the blood.

A fetal ultrasound, which looks at the baby's heart, may find this problem before birth.

What are the symptoms?

If the hole is large and the heart has to work too hard, a baby may have symptoms, such as:

  • Fast breathing.
  • Sweating while feeding.
  • Not eating well.
  • Trouble gaining weight.

How is it treated?

Your baby may get medicines to help with symptoms until the hole can be closed.

A ventricular septal defect causes the heart to work extra hard, so your baby may need more food. Sometimes this can happen with more feedings. But sometimes babies need to be fed for a short time through a tube in the stomach.

Your doctor may suggest a procedure or surgery to close the hole.

What can you expect?

  • If your baby has trouble breathing, the doctor may use a ventilator. This machine helps your baby breathe. To use the machine, the doctor puts a soft tube through your baby's mouth into the windpipe.
  • The hospital staff will give your baby the nutrition that your baby needs. The doctor may feed your baby through a soft tube that goes through the nose and into the stomach. Or the doctor may use an I.V. that goes through the belly button to do this.
  • Your baby may need oxygen. It is given to the baby through a tube in the nose or throat.
  • Your baby will be kept comfortable and warm.
  • It may seem that your baby is getting lots of tests. All of these tests help your doctor keep track of your baby's condition and give the best treatment possible.
  • After treatment, your baby will need routine checkups to check the heart.
  • It's hard to be apart from your baby, especially when you worry about your baby's condition. Know that the hospital staff is well prepared to care for babies with this condition. They will do everything they can to help. If you need it, ask for support from friends and family. You can also ask the hospital staff about counselling and support.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

Enter A118 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Severe Ventricular Septal Defect in Newborns".

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.