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ventricular septal defect

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Ventricular Septal Defect

Alternative Names
VSD, endocardial cushion defect

Ventricular septal defect, VSD, is a congenital defect of the heart, or one present at birth. There is an abnormal opening in the wall that separates 2 chambers of the heart.

What is going on in the body?
The heart has 4 chambers. Two of these chambers are called ventricles. The right ventricle and the left ventricle are separated by a wall or septum. A defect or hole in this wall causes blood to flow abnormally between these 2 chambers. Ventricular septal defect is the most common congenital heart disease.

What are the signs and symptoms of the disease?
Symptoms associated with a ventricular septal defect depend on the size of the defect and condition of the blood vessels. A person with small defects may not have any symptoms. If symptoms are present, the person may just have a history of frequent respiratory infections during infancy and childhood. If there is a large defect, symptoms can occur during infancy and childhood. This type of defect may cause frequent respiratory infections, including pneumonia. Many times symptoms do not appear until adolescence or adulthood.

Symptoms of VSD may include: What are the causes and risks of the disease?
Although the cause of ventricular septal defect is unknown, it is more common with: What can be done to prevent the disease?
Most cases of ventricular septal defect are not preventable. Lowering pregnancy risk factors, such as alcohol use, may prevent some cases.

How is the disease diagnosed?
Obtaining a full history and physical examination may lead a doctor to suspect a ventricular septal defect. Other tests that may be done to confirm the diagnosis may include: What are the long-term effects of the disease?
Long-term effects of a ventricular septal defect will vary depending on the size and location of the defect. Large defects or holes may cause difficulty breathing and weakening of the heart, inflammation or infection of the heart, or congestive heart failure.

What are the risks to others?
A ventricular septal defect is not contagious and poses no risk to others.

What are the treatments for the disease?
Treatment of a ventricular septal defect will depend on the size of the abnormal opening. Some people with small defects may not need any treatment, and the defect may just be monitored. Often small holes in the septum will close by themselves.

Someone with a larger defect often needs open heart surgery. Surgery to close the defect is usually very safe and effective. Surgery is often performed between the ages of 2 to 5 years, but can be done earlier. A child who has serious heart or lung problems from the defect may need other medical care before he or she is strong enough to undergo surgery. Antibiotics may be needed to prevent or treat any infections, such as lung or heart infections.

What are the side effects of the treatments?
All medications and surgeries have possible side effects. For example, antibiotics may cause stomach upset or allergic reactions. Surgery carries a risk of bleeding, infection, and allergic reaction to anaesthesia. Medications used for treatment of congestive heart failure or arrhythmias may cause allergic reactions or salt imbalances.

What happens after treatment for the disease?
In uncomplicated cases, a person may return to normal activity after recovering from surgery. With more severe defects where heart or lung damage occurred, further treatment may be needed.

How is the disease monitored?
Blood tests as well as cardiac tests are often used to follow how the heart is functioning after surgery. Other monitoring of a person with a ventricular septal defect depends on the complications that develop. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.

Author: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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