Cardiac Center

Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) in Children

Before you begin reading about atrial septal defect in children, please read the explanation of how the normal heart works for a basic understanding of its structure and function.

What is an atrial septal defect?

The normal heart has two sides, which are separated by a muscular wall called the septum. Each side of the heart also has two parts - the upper chamber called an atrium, and the lower chamber called a ventricle.

An atrial septal defect (ASD) is an opening in the wall (the atrial septum) Atrial Defect
View Large Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) Illustration
between the heart's two upper chambers (the right and left atria). An ASD is one of the defects referred to as "a hole in the heart."

Normally, the right side of the heart carries deoxygenated blood back into the heart and the left side carries oxygenated blood back out to the body.

An ASD allows the oxygenated blood to pass from the left atrium, through the opening in the septum, into the right atrium causing the two to mix. This leads to increased blood flow through the right side of the heart and lungs. Over time, this "extra" blood volume stresses the heart and causes the right atrium, ventricle and pulmonary arteries to dilate (become wider). This can eventually lead to heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, or heart rhythm abnormalities.

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What are the symptoms of ASD?

An atrial septal defect can cause a heart murmur, but unless the hole in the heart is large, an ASD won't usually cause symptoms. Large holes can cause symptoms in later childhood or adulthood due to the increased blood flow through the right side of the heart. Symptoms of atrial septal defect may include:

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How is ASD diagnosed?

Our doctors usually diagnose an ASD after a primary care doctor refers a child to us for evaluation.

Diagnosis of atrial septal defect may require some or all of these tests:

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What are the treatment options for ASD?

Doctors may decide to wait and see whether the ASD will close on its own. Some small ASDs will close on their own before the child is 2 years old.

If the ASD is large, or won't close on its own, additional steps will be required to prevent complications from developing. Our doctors are among the most experienced in ASD closure. Options include:

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What kind of follow-up care is required for atrial septal defect?

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After ASD repair, most children recover quickly and don't experience additional cardiac problems. Children with ASD must see a pediatric cardiologist for checkups. Rarely, additional surgery is required.

Children who have other heart abnormalities will require more extensive follow-up care.

Our pediatric cardiologists follow patients until they are young adults, coordinating care with the primary care physicians.

Into adulthood

Follow-up care into adulthood may be necessary for children with ASD. We will help with the transition to an adult cardiologist.

The Philadelphia Adult Congenital Heart Center, a joint program of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, meets the unique needs of adults who were born with heart defects.

Because of enormous strides in medicine and technology, today nearly all children with atrial septal defects go on to lead healthy, productive lives as adults.

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Contact the Cardiac Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for a second opinion or for more information.

Reviewed by: Susan K. Schachtner, MD
Date: July 2013

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Atrial Septal Defect

Learn about Morgan's experience with Atrial Septal Defect. Read Morgan's Story.