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Ventricular Septal Defect

What is a ventricular septal defect?

A ventricular septal defect (VSD) is a hole in the heart that forms an abnormal connection between 2 of the heart's chambers.

There are 4 chambers in the human heart. The 2 lower chambers are called the right and left ventricles, and the upper 2 are called the right and left atria. The wall between the 2 ventricles is called the ventricular septum.

When there is a hole in the ventricular septum, oxygen-rich blood from the left ventricle flows into the right ventricle. Then it is pumped back to the lungs, even though this blood does not need oxygen. This problem makes the heart have to work harder to pump blood.

What is the cause?

A VSD is found most often in babies. It happens before birth and is the most common birth defect of the heart. Often it is the only defect, but sometimes there are other heart defects as well. Most of the time the cause of the birth defect is not known. A gene defect or something else may keep this part of the heart from developing properly.

Rarely, an injury to the heart may cause a VSD.

What are the symptoms?

Septal defects vary in size and in the symptoms they cause. A small VSD usually causes no symptoms. Even if the defect is large, a baby often does not have symptoms until several weeks after birth. Some babies with a large VSD do not grow normally and may become undernourished because they do not feed well. Other symptoms include sweating, increased breathing rate, and frequent lung infections. A large VSD in small children can lead to severe heart failure. This means that the heart cannot do its proper job as a pump. Signs of severe heart failure include trouble breathing, rapid breathing, difficulty feeding and poor weight gain, sweating during feeding or other exertion, and tiredness.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Your provider will listen for a heart murmur with a stethoscope. A heart murmur is an extra sound heard between heartbeats. The murmur is caused by the abnormal flow of blood through the heart. Sometimes, if the opening is very large, a murmur may not be heard.

Tests may include:

  • A chest X-ray
  • An ECG (also called an EKG or electrocardiogram), which measures and records the heartbeat
  • An echocardiogram, which uses sound waves (ultrasound) to see how well the heart is pumping
  • Heart catheterization, which uses a small tube called a catheter inserted into a blood vessel and into the heart. Dye is injected into a vein and X-rays are taken of the heart.

How is it treated?

A small VSD usually does not cause any problems and seldom needs treatment. Small VSDs may close on their own during the first years of childhood. The smaller the defect, the greater the chance that it will close on its own. People with a small VSD may lead normal lives.

Medium and large ventricular septal defects may need to be fixed with surgery or heart catheterization. The VSD is closed by sewing a patch of a special material (Dacron) over the defect. This treatment helps prevent problems later in life, including heart failure and high blood pressure in the lung arteries.

If your baby has symptoms, medicines will be given to help the heart pump better until your child has surgery.

How can I take care of my child?

Follow your child’s healthcare provider's instructions. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your child’s test results
  • How long it will take for your child to recover
  • What activities your child should avoid
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Copyright ©2014 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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