Atrial Septal

November 12, 2012

Atrial Septal

During pregnancy the heart of the foetus will generally have a gap between the two upper chambers which allows the blood to bypass the lungs. This small opening is generally closed by the time the baby is born. However if the hole does not closed then this is referred to as Atrial Septal Defect – a congenital (or present at birth) condition.

Small Atrial Septal Defect can often be unnoticed as they tend to cause very few problems particularly if the shunt is minor. Shunt – the flow of blood from the left atria to the right, this can cause a build up of pressures in the lungs.

However if the shunt is a large one then significant problems may occur – including chronic shortness of breath where the increased pressures may have resulted in a total reversal of blood flow. The good news is that if Atrial Septal Defect is discovered then the shunt effect can be reversed in order to correct the blood flow.

Unfortunately it is entirely possible to have an Atrial Septal Defect without experiencing any symptoms although symptoms may develop any time after birth. However if the shunt is fairy small it is perfectly possible for a patient to remain symptom free until much later in life. Symptoms may include -

  • Reoccurring respiratory infections – particularly in the young.

  • Palpitations

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

There are also several complications which can occur with this congenital condition which include

  • Heart failure

  • Stroke

  • Pulmonary over-circulation or hypertension

  • Heart murmur

  • Other congenital heart problems such as a leaky valve.

The discovery of an Atrial Septal Defect may be the result of a physical examination by your medical practitioner. It is possible that your doctor may hear some abnormal heart sounds however this is not always the case – a heart murmur, for example, is not always audible even with a stethoscope. It may even be that a the doctor discovers signs of heart failure before the Atrial Septal Defect is discovered.

There are a number of tests which may be ordered in an effort to discover the extent and true nature of the condition, these tests may include -

  • Chest X-Ray

  • ECG

  • MRI of the heart.

  • TEE

  • Coronary angiography

Assuming that the Atrial Septal Defect is small and causing no symptoms then it is likely that no treatment will be required, however if symptoms are present and the shunt if found to be large the surgery may be recommended.

It is perfectly possible for patients with a moderate Atrial Septal Defect to live a normal life and to remain symptom free. However those with a larger defect may experience some disability in later life due to the effects of the defect on the pulmonary circulatory system.

If you notice any of the symptoms of an Atrial Septal Defect then you must seek medical advice quickly, the condition is not preventable and currently there is no known cause, however, if treatment is sought as soon as possible the correction rate is high.

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