Atrial Septal Defect (ASD)

In the womb, a baby normally has an opening between the atria, which are the upper chambers of the heart. This opening allows blood to flow around the baby’s lungs. Typically, the opening closes shortly after the baby is born.

If the opening or hole does not close before birth, this is known as an atrial septal defect (ASD). The ASD allows some blood from the left atrium (blood that's already been to the lungs) to return via the hole to the right atrium instead of flowing through the left ventricle, out the aorta and to the body. This flow allows pressure to build in the lungs. It also means there is less oxygen in the blood that flows out to the body.

Many children with ASD have few, if any, symptoms. If there are symptoms, they may occur at any time after birth up through childhood.

In some infants, if the ASD is small, the opening may close on its own or, even if it does not, may never cause problems. Your doctor may choose to monitor the ASD to see if it closes. If the ASD is large, it may not close on its own.

Closing the atrial defect in childhood can prevent serious problems later in life. Surgery may be required to correct the defect. Closing the hole can be done using two methods. One is heart catheterization. Using a catheter (a thin tube), a mesh patch or plug is used to close the opening. Heart tissue grows around the patch or plug, sealing the hole. The other method is open-heart surgery. An incision is made in the chest and a surgeon uses a patch or stitches to close the defect. 

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