Ventricular septal defects

Overview

Type of disease: Rare conditions

Ventricular septal defect (VSD) is a heart condition present at birth (congenital) in which there is a hole in the wall (septum) that separates the ventricles (bottom two chambers of the heart). The septum separates oxygenated blood from deoxygenated blood. Normally, the holes in the septum close before the baby is born, but VSD is a common heart birth defect, affecting about 1 in 500 babies. There are several types of VSDs depending on where the hole in the septum is located. If the hole is very small, it may not alter how hard the heart has to work, and affected individuals may not have symptoms. Sometimes a VSD is not diagnosed until childhood or even adulthood.

Often, symptoms are present as soon as a few days after birth and may include poor eating, fast breathing, breathlessness, and getting tired easily. Ventricular septal defects often occur in families (hereditary) or occur with other genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome. Medical researchers believe most VSDs are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Doctors may hear a swishing sound in the heartbeat (a murmur) when listening with a stethoscope. Tests used to confirm a VSD may include a chest X-ray, electrocardiogram (EKG) (tests the electrical impulses), echocardiogram (used sound waves to create a picture), or cardiac MRI.

Treatment depends on location of the defect and the size as well as severity of symptoms. Many small VSDs close on their own. Surgical repair is the most common treatment but sometimes medication may be used temporarily to increase heart function. If your baby or child has been diagnosed with a VSD, talk to their pediatric cardiologist (a heart doctor for children) about the most current treatment options. Support organizations and genetic counselors are also a good source of information and can help connect you with others affected by VSDs.

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