Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) Overview | Tampa General Hospital

Atrial Septal Defect 

An atrial septal defect is a congenital condition commonly referred to as a “hole in the heart.” 

Commonly referred to as a “hole in the heart,” an atrial septal defect (ASD) is a congenital condition that occurs when there is an opening in the wall that separates the heart’s two upper chambers. This hole appears during fetal development to ensure blood doesn’t enter the lungs before birth and usually closes up on its own after birth. In babies with an atrial septal defect, the hole does not close up on its own.  What happens when there is a hole in the heart? Quite simply, it requires the heart and lungs to work harder. In a heart without an ASD, the left and right chambers work in tandem: the left side pumps blood to the body and the right side pumps blood to the lungs. In someone with an ASD, the left-side blood intermingles with the right-side blood and pumps more blood into the lung arteries and less into the arteries supplying blood to other organs in the body.  

Atrial Septal Defect Causes 

While researchers have not discovered a specific cause of atrial septal defects, it’s generally believed to be the result of genetics and if the mother: 

  • Consumed alcohol while pregnant 
  • Took drugs while pregnant 
  • Has lupus, rubella or diabetes 

Atrial Septal Defect Symptoms  

An ASD often doesn’t produce noticeable symptoms in a baby, so most people don’t know they have this defect until they receive a chest X-ray for a different condition or start experiencing troublesome symptoms as they get older.  

Adults with an ASD may experience the following after mild activity: 

  • Shortness of breath 
  • Fainting 
  • Irregular heart rhythms 
  • Fatigue 

Atrial Septal Defect Diagnosis 

An atrial septal defect may be caught during a routine ultrasound during the mother’s pregnancy or from a prenatal screening test. If not found at that time, older children and adults may undergo specific testing if their doctor suspects a heart defect may be present: 

  • Echocardiogram 
  • Chest X-ray 
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) 
  • Cardiac catheterization 
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) 
  • Computer tomography (CT) scan 
  • Doppler ultrasound 

Atrial Septal Defect Treatment  

Tampa General Hospital’s Heart & Vascular Institute is home to a wide range of heart specialists that collaborate to deliver exceptional care to patients experiencing common to complex heart conditions. Our specialists treat atrial septal defects in babies, children and adults using a procedure called ASD closure. This procedure can be completed via cardiac catheterization or open-heart surgery, depending on the size of the hole in your heart and your overall condition.