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Atrial Septal Defect

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

Generally, atrial septal defects that are less than 5 millimeters large tend to close on their own and cause no complications.

A procedure to close the hole may be required for those that do not close after a certain age or for larger atrial septal defects

Atrial septal defect: what you should know

  • The cause of atrial septal defect is mainly unknown; however, a few families have the defect because of a genetic abnormality.
  • It is a relatively common heart condition, affecting approximately 1 child in every 1,500 live births. But often, ASD is not diagnosed until many years later in adulthood.

Atrial septal defect symptoms

Depending on the size of the atrial septal defect, a baby may not display any signs of the disease until later adulthood. Symptoms may include the following:

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

Care for atrial septal defect at Rush

Experts at Rush have many years of experience diagnosing and treating congenital heart diseases such as atrial septal defect.

An ultrasound during pregnancy may detect a potential atrial septal defect in an unborn child. The disease, though, is usually first suspected in childhood  when a physician hears a murmur when listening to a person’s heart using a stethoscope.

A heart specialist will need to confirm the diagnosis, usually using a common test called an echocardiogram that creates pictures of the heart using sound waves. If an atrial septal defect is found, heart experts at Rush will provide a personalized treatment plan based on when the disease is discovered and how large the hole is.

Your physician may decide to use one of the following paths for your care:

  • Monitor an 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.
  • Closure of the hole for a child with a large atrial septal defect or a child or adult with significant symptoms:
    • Cardiac catheterization closes the opening without surgery, using a device inserted into a thin tube called a catheter that is threaded to the heart through a blood vessel in the groin.
    • Open heart surgery is used to patch the hole using an incision in the chest.

Why choose Rush for atrial septal defect care

  • Pediatric heart experts at the Rush Pediatric Congenital Heart Disease Program provide personalized treatment for heart problems that are present at birth, including atrial septal defect. They have extensive expertise in closing ASDs using both surgical and nonsurgical techniques.
  • Rush University Children's Hospital is a regional referral center featuring doctors from more than 30 specialties who treat children of all ages, from newborns to teenagers. At Rush University Children's Hospital, we are committed to family-centered care, so your child's doctors and other providers will involve you in all aspects of your child's care.

Departments and programs that treat this condition