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Septal Defects (Hole in the Heart)

What is a septal defect?

Also referred to as "a hole in the heart," septal defects are diagnosed when blood is able to flow between the heart's left and right chambers due to an opening in the wall that separates the two sides (the septum).

Types of septal defects include:

  • Atrial septal defect (ASD) — The opening is between the two upper chambers of the heart, the left and the right atrium. This defect allows blood to flow back into the lungs.
  • Ventricular septal defect (VSD) — The opening is between the two lower chambers of the heart, the left and the right ventricle. This defect allows blood to flow back into the right ventricle instead of into the aorta.
  • Eisenmenger's complex — Ventricular septal defect coupled with high blood pressure in the lungs, that may also include a malpositioned aorta that receives blood from both ventricles.
  • Atrioventricular canal defect — The opening is between the upper and lower chambers of the heart. Blood is allowed to flow from the lungs, to the left side of the heart, to the right side of the heart, then back to the lungs (instead of the rest of the body).

What are the symptoms?

Children born with atrial septal defect may not have any symptoms early in life, but may have complications later. In the other defects, symptoms may vary depending upon the defect.

Most common symptoms of a septal defect are:

  • Slow growth
  • High blood pressure in the lungs
  • Cyanosis (a bluish color to the skin)
  • Heart murmur

How is it treated?

Septal defects can be detected by an echocardiogram or transesophageal echo cardiogram.

Treatment depends upon the severity of the defect. If treatment is required, non-surgical repair or surgical repair of the opening is typically successful in restoring normal circulation.

What is Lee Health's approach?

Lee Health excels at nonsurgical ASD repair. Prior to the procedure, a patient will have a cardiac catheterization to assess the exact size and location of the defect. During the procedure, a closure device is attached to a catheter, which is inserted into a vein in the groin and advanced to the heart and through the defect with the assistance of x-ray and intracardiac echo. The cardiologist will push the closure device out of the catheter slowly so that it opens to cover each edge of the defect, sealing it closed. Over time, scar tissue grows over the closure device and it becomes part of the heart.

As the largest health system in the region, Lee Health is involved in the latest treatment and research on septal defects.

Who should I contact?

For more information on atrial septal defects and closure repair, please contact your doctor. If you don't have a doctor, call Lee Physician Group at 239-481-4111.