Atrial Septal Defect

Women generally look forward to giving birth to a healthy baby, but sometimes, complications present themselves shortly after the newborn’s arrival. Numerous conditions can affect newborn babies, with congenital disabilities being particularly common. Studies report that about 7.9 million births each year are recorded with some type of congenital defect. Many of these defects affect the cardiovascular system, resulting in complications down the line. 

Atrial septal defect is one condition that has an adverse effect on the heart, affecting the newborn’s cardiovascular health. There are cases where the defect goes away by itself, but some newborns do require treatment to prevent long-term complications. We consider what atrial septal defect is, how it is diagnosed, and look at the current recommendations for treatments. 

What Is Atrial Septal Defect ?

Atrial septal defect is a condition that is found among some newborn babies. Throughout pregnancy, multiple parts of the heart attach to each other during the baby’s development phase. Sometimes, however, the atria and septum do not adhere properly, which leaves a hole in the area where these two walls should come together. This is a congenital disability that affects the cardiovascular system and results in adverse effects. 

There are several cases where an atrial septal defect corrects itself. As the baby grows, the hole may close independently without the need for medical intervention. This is not always the case, however. With larger holes between the two walls of the septum and atria, surgical procedures may be necessary to fix the defect. Severe cases can also become life-threatening, which is why early detection is considered a crucial element of an atrial septal defect. Fortunately, with the proper treatment, the defect can be fixed, and kids can grow up to live healthy lives. 

Are There Any Symptoms Associated With Atrial Septal Defect ?

One of the major issues with an atrial septal defect is that it often does not present any initial symptoms. In fact, many newborns with the condition go undiagnosed. There are also several cases where an atrial septal defect is only identified later on during adulthood when it becomes a problem for the individual. 

With this said, when the hole in the heart is large, it may cause an infant to develop symptoms. Sometimes, the hole may not present symptoms during infancy but rather as the child grows older. 

Breathing difficulties tend to be a common concern among individuals with this type of defect. Among infants, tiredness may be observed when they are being fed. If the kid grows older, they may experience shortness of breath, especially after being active for a short while. In addition, the complications caused by an atrial septal defect can result in excess fluids in the body. Sometimes, swelling may be seen in the patient’s abdomen, legs, and feet. 

Another concern that needs to be taken into consideration is a recurring infection in the respiratory system. In these cases, the lungs are usually affected by the infection, but infectious diseases can also affect other parts of the respiratory system. 

Treatment Options And Management

There are treatments available for an atrial septal defect, but the specific plan provided to a patient depends on several factors. Doctors will first consider the patient’s age and perform a few tests to determine the severity of the defect. The healthcare provider will also carefully assess any symptoms presented by the patient. 

If the defect is identified in infancy, then the doctor may choose to wait before performing surgery. This accounts for cases where the hole is small and does not pose an immediate threat. There are several scenarios where the hole closes by itself without the need for surgical intervention. The doctor will advise the parent to bring the infant for checkups regularly. This allows the doctor to continuously monitor the hole and look for signs of increased severity. 

Surgical treatment will likely be advised when the doctor notices that the hole is not closing or perhaps growing larger. The hole can be closed through a surgical procedure by an experienced surgeon. 

Should a doctor only identify an atrial septal defect in adulthood, then the patient’s symptoms are considered? The doctor may also ask the patient to undergo a sonar of their heart, also known as an echocardiogram. With this imaging tool, the doctor can determine the size of the hole and understand the current risks it presents. The doctor will also consider the severity of symptoms that the patient experiences. In more serious cases, the patient is referred for surgical treatment.

Studies suggest that in infants, the use of percutaneous interventions may also yield effective results when it comes to closing the atrial septal defect. This can help to prevent complications from occurring later in life. 

Complications And Outlook

The outlook depends on the severity of the defect and the time of detection. It is also important to note that there are many cases where spontaneous closure of the defect is observed. In such cases, further interventions or treatments will usually not be necessary. 

Since this is not always the case with an atrial septal defect, it’s essential to understand the long-term complications. In cases where the hole grows bigger and is not fixed, the patient may start to experience symptoms related to pulmonary hypertension. This happens due to excessive blood being pushed to the lungs. The lungs and heart also need to work at a more challenging rate to function properly, putting strain on these organs. There is also a risk of developing dysrhythmias, which affects the heart as well. 

Apart from these complications, patients may experience breathing difficulties. It is also possible for the defect to prevent the individual from participating in physical activities, as this would increase the severity of their symptoms. 

Over time, the excessive stress placed on the heart can result in a condition known as heart failure. This makes the heart less efficient at delivering blood to all body areas. People with an untreated atrial septal defect are also more likely to suffer from a stroke when the hole starts to cause complications with the cardiovascular system. 


An atrial septal defect can result in tiredness, breathing problems, and other symptoms in newborns but does not always have early signs. Doctors can still diagnose the condition through a physical examination and imaging tests. Early detection and treatment become crucial, especially in cases where the hole related to the defect is large. Multiple treatment strategies can be used for infants with an atrial septal defect, but the appropriate option depends on the position and severity of the defect.