Atrial Septal Defect: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

The heart

Your heart is a muscular pump that has four chambers. An atrial septal defect is an opening in the wall between the upper chambers of the heart. It is a type of congenital heart defect, which means that you were born with it. When this defect is present, some of the blood may flow from one side of the heart through the hole to the other side. This can strain the heart.

A very small hole may not cause problems. Larger holes can weaken the heart and lead to heart failure. Your doctor will determine if the defect should be closed.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • Heart defects can increase your risk of an infection in your heart. Talk to your doctor about your own risk. You may need to take antibiotics before certain dental or surgical procedures to prevent infection.
  • Plan your meals so that you are eating heart-healthy foods.
    • Eat a variety of foods daily. Fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains are good choices.
    • Limit your fat intake, especially saturated and trans fat.
    • Limit salt (sodium).
    • Increase fibre in your diet.
    • Limit alcohol.
  • If your doctor recommends it, get more exercise. Walking is a good choice. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk every day. Try for 2½ hours a week. You also may want to swim, bike, or do other activities.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can make heart problems worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.
  • You cough up pink, foamy mucus and you have trouble breathing.
  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Light-headedness or sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
    After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
  • You have symptoms of a stroke. These may include:
    • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
    • Sudden vision changes.
    • Sudden trouble speaking.
    • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
    • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
    • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.
  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or increased shortness of breath.
  • You are dizzy or light-headed, or you feel like you may faint.
  • You have sudden weight gain, such as 1.3 kilograms or more in 2 to 3 days.
  • You have increased swelling in your legs, ankles, or feet.
  • You are suddenly so tired or weak that you cannot do your usual activities.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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