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.
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.
It is estimated that up to 1% of babies are born with this condition. 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, then too much blood will be pumped to the lungs, leading to congestive heart failure. These babies are often have symptoms related to heart failure and may need medicine to control the symptoms and surgery to close the hole.
The cause of VSD is not yet known. This defect often occurs along with other congenital heart defects.
In adults, interventricular septal defects are a rare, but serious complication of heart attacks. These holes are related to the heart attack and do not result from a birth defect.
- Shortness of breath
- Fast breathing
- Hard breathing
- Failure to gain weight
- Fast heart rate
- Pounding heart
- 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:
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.
With congestive heart failure, medications such as digitalis (digoxin) and diuretics may be prescribed.
Regardless of the size of the defect, all children with a VSD need to take antibiotics before undergoing dental work and certain other invasive procedures.
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 catheterization. Treating a VSD that does not have symptoms is controversial, and should be carefully discussed with your health care provider.
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.
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 two things during pregnancy, there is no known way to prevent a VSD.