Atrial Septal Defect

An atrial septal defect is a hole between the upper two chambers a child’s heart (atria) that exists at birth (congenital). The opening may increase the amount of blood that enters the lungs.

Remarkable Care for Kids

  • Pediatric cardiology expertise: Experts in the Rush Pediatric Congenital Heart Disease Program provide advanced care for children with an atrial septal defect, including closing atrial septal defects using both surgical and nonsurgical techniques.
  • Excellence in neonatal intensive care: Babies with an atrial septal defect may need neonatal intensive care to help them with breathing and circulation issues at birth. The Renée Schine Crown Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Rush is located next to labor and delivery, allowing neonatal intensive care specialists to care for your child seconds after delivery.
  • Care close to home: Pediatric cardiologists at Rush University Children’s Hospital can see patients at a number of convenient locations. They are available to see patients at our Rush campus in Chicago, Rush Oak Park Hospital, Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora, and at satellite locations throughout the city and the suburbs, including Evergreen Park, Joliet, Hoffman Estates, Tinley Park and Crown Point, IN.

What is an atrial septal defect?

Generally, atrial septal defects that are less than 5 millimeters in diameter tend to close on their own and cause no complications. Your child may need a procedure to close the hole if it does not close after a certain age or if your child has a larger atrial septal defect.

Atrial septal defect symptoms

Depending on the size of the atrial septal defect, your child may not display any signs of the atrial septal defect until adulthood. However, some symptoms of atrial septal defect may include the following:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Heart murmur
  • Palpitations
  • Recurring respiratory infections
  • Poor weight gain
  • Stroke

Care for atrial septal defect at Rush

Diagnosis

Prenatal ultrasound: An ultrasound during pregnancy may detect a potential atrial septal defect in your baby when you are pregnant.

Health exam: Your child’s pediatrician may first suspect that your child has an atrial septal defect during a routine health exam if your child’s pediatrician hears a murmur when listening to your child’s heart using a stethoscope. Your child’s pediatrician will then refer you to a pediatric cardiologist for further testing and diagnosis.

Diagnostic testing: A pediatric cardiologist will perform an echocardiogram on your child. This test creates pictures of your child’s heart using soundwaves. If the test reveals that your child has an atrial septal defect, your child’s care team will work with you to create a personalized treatment plan for your child.

Treatment options

Your child’s care may include the following treatments for your child’s care:

  • Monitor your infant or child to see if the hole closes on its own. Treatment may not be necessary if the hole is small and there are few or no symptoms.
  • Surgical or nonsurgical closure of the hole for a child with a large atrial septal defect or a child with significant symptoms:
    • Nonsurgical: Cardiac catheterization closes the opening without surgery by using a device inserted into a thin tube called a catheter that is threaded to your child’s heart through a blood vessel in the groin.
    • Surgical: Open-heart surgery is used to patch the hole using an incision in the chest.