Atrial Septal Defect
(ASD; “Hole” in the Heart)
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
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.
Factors that increase the risk of having a child with an atrial septal defect include:
- Smoking by the mother during pregnancy
- Down syndrome
Symptoms of atrial septal defect include:
- Tiring easily during activity
- 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.
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:
- Doppler image
- Cardiac catheterization
- Chest x-ray
- MRI of the heart —mostly done in adults
Your doctor may need to check the health of your arteries. This can be done with coronary angiography.
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.
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 MouthHealthy.org website. Available at: http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/a/Premedication-or-Antibiotics. Accessed June 29, 2015.
Atrial septal defect. KidsHealth.org website. Available at: http://www.kidshealth.org/parent/medical/heart/asd.html. Updated May 2013. Accessed June 29, 2015.
Atrial septal defects and patent foramen ovale. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 26, 2015. Accessed June 29, 2015.
Last reviewed June 2015 by Michael J. Fucci, DO; Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.