Key Points about Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) 

  • Atrial septal defects, or ASDs, are caused by a congenital heart defect (present at birth).
  • Having certain infections or using drugs, alcohol or tobacco during pregnancy can increase the baby’s risk of being born with an ASD.
  • Treatment for an ASD can include watchful monitoring, medication management and/or surgery to correct the ASD.
Common related conditions
Heart (Cardiovascular) Disease

Overview

An atrial septal defect, or ASD, is when there is a hole in the wall – known as the septum – between the upper two chambers of the heart, or atria. An ASD causes more blood to flow through the lungs and can lead to heart and/or lung damage over time. ASD is a congenital condition, meaning that it is present at birth. In some cases, small ASDs may close on their own and never cause any issues.

Atrial septal defect causes

A birth defect causes an ASD, but scientists do not know why this defect occurs.

Atrial septal defect risk factors

If you are pregnant, factors that can increase your baby’s risk for developing an ASD include:

  • Diabetes
  • Drug, alcohol or tobacco use
  • Family history of Down syndrome or heart defects
  • Lupus
  • Rubella infection

Atrial septal defect symptoms

Some people with an ASD may not experience any symptoms. When they do occur, signs and symptoms of an ASD can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Heart murmur (extra sound in a heartbeat)
  • Heart palpitations, or fluttering
  • Shortness of breath, especially during exercise
  • Stroke
  • Swelling in your feet, legs or abdomen

Atrial septal defects diagnosis

Your cardiologist will use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:

  • Complete physical exam. Your doctor will perform a comprehensive physical exam, including asking about your personal and family health history.
  • Imaging tests. Your cardiologist may order imaging tests – such as a chest X-ray, electrocardiogram (EKG), cardiac computerized tomography (CT) scan or echocardiogram – to obtain detailed images of your heart and valves.

Atrial septal defect treatments

Treatment for ASD may include:

  • Medication management. Your cardiologist may prescribe one or more medications to help control symptoms related to your ASD, such as heartbeat irregularities or blood clots.
  • Ongoing monitoring. If the ASD is small, the cardiologist may recommend watchful waiting and monitoring.
  • Surgery. During this procedure, your cardiothoracic surgeon will close the hole between the opening in the atria. Depending on your specific situation, the surgical procedure may be minimally invasive, or you may need open-heart surgery to correct the ASD.

When to seek care

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a cardiologist for more specialized treatment.