Atrial Septal Defect in Children
by Wendy Travis
An atrial septal defect is a heart defect that is congenital, meaning the condition is present at birth. It occurs when a hole forms in the wall between the two upper chambers of the heart.
An opening in the wall of the heart allows oxygenated blood to mix with deoxygenated blood before it is pumped to the lungs. The additional blood may place a strain on the heart muscle and increase the blood pressure in the lungs.
Symptoms of an atrial septal defect, which may not appear until the adult years, include heart palpitations, shortness of breath or swelling of the legs and feet. Sometimes the defect is suspected in children, though, if a heart murmur is detected through a stethoscope.
An electrocardiogram is used to diagnose an atrial septal defect. Cardiac catheterization may also be used to pinpoint the precise location of the opening.
Very small atrial septal defects may close on their own during childhood. Others require surgery to patch the opening. The surgery corrects the problem with no further treatment needed, although most patients are monitored by a cardiologist for a period of time after surgery.
Young children with atrial septal defects may be monitored to see if the opening closes on its own. Medications may be used to regulate the heartbeat and prevent clotting.