Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) is a congenital heart defect in which there is a malformation of the septum in the heart. For some people, this hole in the septum may close up over time, but for others it remains and it can cause problems for that person later in life.

What are the symptoms of atrial septal defect?

Most people do not present symptoms of ASD until adulthood. Those symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath, especially when exercising
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling of legs, feet or abdomen
  • Arrythmia
  • Heart palpitations or pounding heart
  • Heart murmur

These symptoms can be consistent with several other heart and vascular conditions, so anytime you are experiencing these concerns, it’s good to see a cardiologist.

How serious is atrial septal defect?

For many, the hole in their heart may be small enough that it doesn’t cause any major issues or concerns. In those cases, a regular check-up and watchfulness is appropriate. For others who have a large opening, that defect can cause damage to the heart and lungs over the long-term, creating issues like irregular heartbeat, heart failure or pulmonary hypertension. Serious complications can include stroke or even early death.

When the issue is that severe, surgery may be required to repair the hole and return the heart to normal function.

How is atrial septal defect diagnosed?

Typically, an atrial septal defect is detected by discovering a heart murmur when listening to a patient’s heart with a stethoscope. After that, your primary care physician or cardiologist will usually recommend an echocardiogram to confirm the diagnosis and help determine a treatment plan.

How is atrial septal defect treated?

Determining the treatment plan for ASD depends on a lot of factors, including the age of the patient, the severity of the symptoms, the size of the hole, and finally the presence of other conditions and comorbidities. Medications can help manage symptoms and side effects, but if the atrial septal defect is severe enough, more intensive treatment may be necessary.

For patients at Georgia Heart Institute, their case will be reviewed by an interdisciplinary group of heart specialists, including heart surgeons, interventional cardiologists and structural heart doctors, to determine the best and safest next step.

If closing the hole is the best treatment option for your case, your ASD will be closed either through a minimally invasive catheter-based procedure with one of the doctors at our Structural Heart Center at our state-of-the-art cardiac cath lab or through robotic or open heart surgery with a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon.

Receiving structural heart care at Georgia Heart Institute

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