Children's Hospital Colorado

Atrial Septal Defect

What is atrial septal defect (ASD) in kids?

If your child has an atrial septal defect, or ASD, he or she has a hole in the wall of the heart that separates its two upper chambers, the left and right atrium. The hole is formed when the heart wall, called the atrial septum, does not seal completely during a baby's development. This condition is sometimes known as "a hole in the heart" in children. ASD in kids is a congenital heart defect, which means children are born with it.

The location on the septum (wall) and size of the hole can vary from child to child. Some ASDs are so small they heal themselves as a child grows, but others may require closure with either a heart catheterization or surgery. Rarely, an atrial septal defect is part of a more complicated heart condition that might involve other heart defects.

Why is pediatric ASD a health concern?

Normally, the septum seals off the two atria from each other completely. But the presence of an ASD allows blood from the higher-pressure left atrium to seep into the right atrium. This causes extra blood to be sent from the right side of the heart back into the lungs.

An atrial septal defect in children may increase the risk of stroke and lung infections caused by the extra blood pushing through the lungs.

ASD is more common in girls, although the reason why is still unknown. ASD is usually diagnosed before a child is old enough to go to school.

See why our outcomes make us one of the top heart hospitals

One family's journey with ASD:

9News anchor Cheryl Preheim's 7-year-old son had open-heart surgery at Children's Colorado to correct a congenital heart condition. Then, pregnant with her fourth child, Cheryl learned that the baby she was carrying had a kidney defect. Watch their inspiring journey at our hospital.

What are the signs and symptoms of atrial septal defect (ASD)?

Your child's atrial septal defect symptoms will depend on the size and location of the septum hole. Most children with atrial septal defects have no outward symptoms, and they grow and gain weight normally.

Atrial septal defect symptoms in babies with larger, more severe holes may experience poor growth and weight gain, decreased appetite, fatigue and shortness of breath. Recurring lung problems and pneumonia are also potential signs of the condition. Some children faint, particularly after exercise or activity.

How do our doctors diagnose atrial septal defect (ASD)?

Most often, atrial septal defects (ASD) are first identified by a child's pediatrician during a checkup. All the extra blood flow into the lungs due to the ASD causes a signature murmur, or "swooshing" sound a doctor can hear while listening to a child's heart.

If a doctor suspects a child might have ASD, he or she will request more tests to confirm the size and location of the hole. Common tests include:

What are some ASD treatment options at Children's Colorado?

Atrial septal defect treatment starts with monitoring

If your child has an ASD, your pediatric cardiologist will want to carefully monitor him or her. You may have frequent appointments and repeated tests to help track the condition. Often, the hole will close on its own without a medical intervention. However, if the hole has not closed up by the time a child starts school, a cardiologist will schedule either a cardiac catheterization or open-heart surgery to close the hole.

Cardiac catheterization

If your child's ASD does not improve on its own, the condition can usually be repaired by cardiac catheterization. This is a minimally invasive surgery where a small incision is made in a child's groin and a patch is gently snaked up the leg veins into the heart, where it can then be guided across the hole, then opened up like a flower to seal it. Children stay in the hospital overnight and are asked to take it easy for the next week. Learn more about what to expect for your child's heart catheterization.

Open-heart surgery

Less commonly, when the hole is too large for cardiac catheterization surgery or in the wrong location, open-heart surgery may be required to repair it. A cardiac surgeon will stitch the septal hole together or patch the hole with surgical material. In this case, your child will typically stay in the hospital for a few days while the incision heals.

Learn why Children's Colorado is the best place for your child's heart surgery.

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