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Atrial Septal Defect


An atrial septal defect (ASD)

is a hole in the septum (wall) between the upper chambers of your heart. The hole may be small or large. An ASD causes a problem with the way blood moves through your heart. This makes your heart work harder to pump blood. Over time, an ASD can damage your heart and lungs.

Atrial Septal Defect

Common signs and symptoms of an ASD:

You may not have symptoms if your ASD is very small. If you do have symptoms, they may not appear until you are age 20 older. You may have any of the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling your heart skip a beat or flutter
  • Shortness of breath that is worse during exercise
  • Lips and fingernails turn blue with activity
  • Frequent colds or lung infections
  • Chest pain

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:
    • Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest that lasts longer than 5 minutes or returns
    • Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm
    • Trouble breathing
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat, especially with chest pain or trouble breathing
  • You have any of the following signs of a stroke:
    • Numbness or drooping on one side of your face
    • Weakness in an arm or leg
    • Confusion or difficulty speaking
    • Dizziness, a severe headache, or vision loss
  • You cough up blood.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You are short of breath at rest or more short of breath than usual during exercise.
  • Your lips or fingers are blue or white at rest.
  • Your heart is beating faster than usual or fluttering more than usual.
  • You feel dizzy or faint.
  • You have swelling in your legs or ankles.
  • You have severe abdominal pain or your abdomen is larger than usual.

Contact your cardiologist if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have chills, a cough, or feel weak and achy.
  • You feel depressed.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


may depend on your symptoms and the size of your ASD. Medicines may be given to control your heartbeat or decrease stress on your heart. Medicine may also be given to lower pressure in your lungs, prevent blood clots, or remove extra fluid. Surgery or a cardiac catheterization may be needed if your symptoms get worse. These procedures can be used to close the ASD with stitches, a patch, or a plug.

  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.


  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can increase your risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary artery disease. These conditions can make your symptoms worse. Ask your healthcare provider how much you should weigh. Ask him to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung and heart damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol can increase your risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary artery disease.
  • Eat heart-healthy foods and limit sodium (salt). Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat fewer canned and processed foods. Replace butter and margarine with heart-healthy oils such as olive oil and canola oil. Other heart-healthy foods include walnuts, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, and lean meats. Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna are also heart healthy. Ask how much salt you can eat each day.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if you need to limit your activity. You may need to avoid strenuous activities to decrease symptoms. Examples include running, lifting, and swimming. You may also need to avoid scuba diving or hiking in high altitudes. These activities may put too much stress on your heart.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about vaccines. Vaccines can help prevent infection. Infection can make your condition worse. You may need the pneumonia and flu vaccines.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about pregnancy. If you are a woman and want to get pregnant, talk to your healthcare provider. Pregnancy may increase your or your baby's risk for problems.

Follow up with your cardiologist as directed:

You will need to return for blood tests and other tests. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.