Reference Index - Disease & Conditions

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Heart, section through the middle
Heart, section through the middle


Heart, front view
Heart, front view


Ventricular septal defect
Ventricular septal defect


Ventricular septal defect

Definition:

Ventricular septal defect describes one or more holes in the wall that separates the right and left ventricles of the heart. Ventricular septal defect is one of the most common congenital (present from birth) heart defects. It may occur by itself or with other congenital diseases.



Alternative Names:

VSD; Interventricular septal defect



Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

Before a baby is born, the right and left ventricles of its heart are not separate. As the fetus grows, a wall forms to separate these two ventricles. If the wall does not completely form, a hole remains. This hole is known as a ventricular septal defect, or a VSD.

Ventricular septal defect is one of the most common congenital heart defects. The baby may have no symptoms, and the hole can eventually close as the wall continues to grow after birth. If the hole is large, too much blood will be pumped to the lungs, leading to heart failure.

The cause of VSD is not yet known. This defect often occurs along with other congenital heart defects.

In adults, ventricular septal defects are a rare but serious complication of heart attacks. These holes are related to heart attacks and do not result from a birth defect.



Symptoms:

Patients with ventricular septal defects may not have symptoms. However, if the hole is large, the baby often has symptoms related to heart failure.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast breathing
  • Hard breathing
  • Paleness
  • Failure to gain weight
  • Fast heart rate
  • Sweating while feeding
  • Frequent respiratory infections


Signs and tests:

Listening with a stethoscope usually reveals a heart murmur (the sound of the blood crossing the hole). The loudness of the murmur is related to the size of the defect and amount of blood crossing the defect.

Tests may include:

  • Chest x-ray -- looks to see if there is a large heart with fluid in the lungs
  • ECG -- shows signs of an enlarged left ventricle
  • Echocardiogram -- used to make a definite diagnosis
  • Cardiac catheterization (rarely needed, unless there are concerns of high blood pressure in the lungs)
  • MRI of the heart -- used to find out how much blood is getting to the lungs


Treatment:

If the defect is small, no treatment is usually needed. However, the baby should be closely monitored by a health care provider to make sure that the hole eventually closes properly and signs of heart failure do not occur.

Babies with a large VSD who have symptoms related to heart failure may need medicine to control the symptoms and surgery to close the hole. Medications may include digitalis (digoxin) and diuretics.

If symptoms continue despite medication, surgery to close the defect with a Gore-tex patch is needed. Some VSDs can be closed with a special device during a cardiac catheterization , although this is infrequently done.

Surgery for a VSD with no symptoms is controversial. This should be carefully discussed with your health care provider.



Support Groups:



Expectations (prognosis):

Many small defects will close on their own. For those defects that do not spontaneously close, the outcome is good with surgical repair. Complications may result if a large defect is not treated.



Complications:

Calling your health care provider:

Most often, this condition is diagnosed during routine examination of an infant. Call your infant's health care provider if the baby seems to be having difficulty breathing, or if the baby seems to have an unusual number of respiratory infections.



Prevention:

Except for the case of heart-attack-associated VSD, this condition is always present at birth.

Drinking alcohol and using the antiseizure medicines depakote and dilantin during pregnancy have been associated with increased incidence of VSDs. Other than avoiding these things during pregnancy, there is no known way to prevent a VSD.



References:

Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 8th ed. St. Louis, Mo: WB Saunders; 2007.




Review Date: 12/21/2009
Reviewed By: Kurt R. Schumacher, MD, Pediatric Cardiology, University of Michigan Congenital Heart Center, Ann Arbor, MI. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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