VSD Ventricular Septal Defect

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.

Symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast breathing
  • Hard breathing
  • Paleness
  • 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:

  • Chest x-ray-- looks to see if there is a large heart with fluid in the lungs
  • ECG-- shows signs of an enlarged left ventricle
  • Echocardiogram-- used to make a definite diagnosis
  • Cardiac catheterization (rarely needed, unless there are concerns of high blood pressure in the lungs, in which case surgery to close the defect is generally not recommended)

Treatment:

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.

Expectations (prognosis):

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.

Complications:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Infective endocarditis (bacterial infection of the heart)
  • Aortic insufficiency (leaking of the valve that separates the left ventricle from the aorta)
  • Damage to the electrical conduction system of the heart during surgery
  • Delayed growth and development (failure to thrive in infancy)
  • Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs) leading to failure of the right side of the heart
 
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