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Atrial Septal Defect

(ASD; “Hole” in the Heart)
  • Definition

    The atria are the the upper chambers of the heart. An atrial septal defect (ASD) is a hole in the wall between the left and right chambers of the atria. It is present at birth.
    Blood passes from the left atrium to the right atrium in babies born with ASD. This eventually can cause problems in the lungs.
    Heart Chambers and Valves
    heart anatomy
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
  • Causes

    ASD is occurs during fetal development. It is present at birth. Some cases may be caused by a genetic defect or abnormality inherited from a parent. Others can be caused by illnesses suffered by the mother during pregnancy.
    Most of the time, the cause is unknown.
  • Risk Factors

    Factors that increase the risk of having a child with an atrial septal defect include:
    • Smoking by the mother during pregnancy
    • Down syndrome
  • Symptoms

    Symptoms of atrial septal defect include:
    • Tiring easily during activity
    • Sweating
    • Rapid breathing, difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath
    • Ongoing respiratory infections
    • Poor growth
    • Irregular, rapid beating of the heart
    • Poor appetite
    People with minor-to-moderate defects may show no symptoms. They may not begin to show symptoms until later in life.
  • Diagnosis

    You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A murmur may be heard when listening to the chest with a stethoscope.
    Your doctor may need pictures of your heart. This can be done with:
    Your doctor may need to check the health of your arteries. This can be done with coronary angiography .
  • Treatment

    Small defects that produce few or no symptoms may not require treatment. Many defects may close on their own without treatment. Talk with the doctor about the best treatment plan. Treatment options include:
    Surgery may be needed if large defects cause significant symptoms.
    A new procedure may also be performed. It closes the opening without surgery. A heart catheter is inserted in the inner part of the thigh. A closure device is inserted through this catheter.
    If your condition is repaired through surgery, you may need to take an antibiotic before you have dental procedures.
  • Prevention

    The condition is a congenital defect with unknown causes. There are no preventive measures. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent complications.

    Family Doctor—American Association of Family Physicians

    American Heart Association


    Canadian Adult Congenital Heart Network

    Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation


    Antibiotic prophylaxis for heart patients. American Dental Association's website. Available at: Accessed June 29, 2015.

    Atrial septal defect. website. Available at: Updated May 2013. Accessed June 29, 2015.

    Atrial septal defects and patent foramen ovale. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated May 26, 2015. Accessed June 29, 2015.

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