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An atrial septal defect is a type of congenital heart disease. Congenital heart disease refers to heart problems a baby is born with.
The heart is a muscular pump with four chambers. The two bottom chambers are the left and right ventricles. The two top chambers—the left atrium and right atrium—are separated by a wall of tissue called a septum. An atrial 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 larger, some of the blood may flow through it from the left atrium to the right atrium. So the right side of the heart may pump too much blood. Over time, this can cause the right ventricle to enlarge. And it can damage the lungs and weaken the heart.
Your doctor may hear abnormal heart sounds, such as a heart murmur, when examining your baby.
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.
If the hole is large and the heart has to work too hard, a baby may have symptoms, such as:
If the hole is large or causing symptoms, your doctor may advise treatment to close the hole. Some children may have a treatment called catheterization.
If your baby has this treatment, your baby will be asleep while it is done. The doctor puts a thin tube into a blood vessel in your child's groin. This tube is called a catheter. The doctor will move the catheter through the blood vessel to the heart. A dye can be put into the catheter. The doctor can take X-ray pictures of the dye as it moves through your child's heart and blood vessels.
The pictures can show exactly where the hole is. Then the doctor moves special tools through the catheter to the heart. The doctor uses these tools to close the hole. Then the tools and the catheter are removed.
Some babies have surgery to close the hole.
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.
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Current as of: September 7, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
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