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Ventricular Septal Defect: What You Need to Know About One of the Most Common CHDs

Mallory Dorris, 16, was diagnosed at just one week old with atrial septal defect (ASD) and ventricular septal defect (VSD). She struggled for 12 weeks to put on weight, and finally she could wait no longer for surgery. After open heart surgery to repair her congenital heart defects, according to her mom Dana, Mallory transformed immediately from a “failure to thrive” baby to a normal, healthy child.

A VSD occurs during fetal life when the wall that forms between the two bottom chambers of the heart fails to fully develop, leaving a hole. The hole allows the oxygenated (red) blood to mix with the oxygen-poor (blue) blood, and ultimately, too much blood is sent to the lungs causing a fluid build-up. This extra blood being pumped into the lungs forces the heart and lungs to work harder. Over time, if not repaired, VSDs can increase the risk for complications including heart failure, high blood pressure in the lung arteries or irregular heart rhythms.

Congenital heart defects occur in approximately 1 percent of children. VSDs represent one of the most common forms of congenital heart defects. The signs and symptoms of a VSD depend on the size and position of the hole. A large hole can cause persistent fast breathing, poor feeding, decreased weight gain and a heart murmur. A small hole may close on its own, but if it’s still present when a child turns 5, it often remains open. If a hole is small and located in the muscular septum, away from the heart valves, it may not cause complications.

The most common intervention to repair a VSD involves open heart surgery and a patch that is used to close the hole. This surgery is one of the most common open heart surgeries performed, and represents approximately one out of every seven of the 600 to 700 open heart surgeries that are completed each year at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The vast majority of surgeries are successful, and the risk of a bad outcome is very low. Once the hole is closed, it does not return, and the child can go on to live a healthy, active life.

A small hole at bottom part of septum is the best-case scenario,” said Glen Iannucci, MD, Sibley Heart Center pediatric cardiologist. “In this location, it is far away from the valves, and most patients won’t have trouble or need intervention. However, the good news is that even large VSDs are readily treatable in the current era, and after a VSD repair, we expect the patient will be able to be a regular kid and live a normal life.”

To learn more about VSD, check out these resources:

American Heart Association

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta: Ventricular Septal Defect

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta VSD teaching sheet

For more information about Sibley Heart Center Cardiology and our pediatric cardiology specialists, click here.

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