Skip to Content

Atrial Septal Defect


What is an 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 is a common heart defect that people are born with. It prevents blood from flowing through your heart in a normal way. Your heart works harder to pump blood. Over time, an ASD can damage your heart and lungs.

Atrial Septal Defect

What causes an ASD?

The cause is not known. Women who have an illness called rubella early in their pregnancy have a higher risk of having a baby with ASD. A baby who is born too early has a greater risk of having an ASD. A family history of ASD may also increase the risk.

What are the signs and symptoms of an ASD?

Some people have no symptoms because their ASD is very small. Many people do not have symptoms until they are teenagers or young adults.

  • Fatigue
  • Uneven heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath during exercise or activities, such as climbing stairs
  • Lips and fingernails turn blue with activity
  • Frequent colds or lung infections
  • Heart murmur (extra sound) when healthcare providers listen to your heartbeat

How is an ASD diagnosed?

  • A cardiac catheterization is a test used to show how well your heart is working or to measure pressure. A tube is threaded into your heart through a blood vessel in your leg or arm. You may be given a dye before x-ray pictures of your arteries are taken to help healthcare providers see the pictures better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.
  • A chest x-ray can show if the right side of your heart is larger than the left. The pictures can also show if your pulmonary arteries are larger than they should be.
  • An echocardiogram uses sound waves to show pictures of your heart. It can show the size of the ASD and how blood flows through your heart. It can also show how well your heart is pumping.
  • An EKG records the electrical activity of your heart. It is used to check the amount of time it takes for the right ventricle to contract (pump blood). An EKG can show signs of other problems that may happen with ASD.

How is an ASD treated?

  • Medicines:
    • Blood thinners prevent blood clots. They may make you bruise or bleed more easily. To prevent bleeding, brush your teeth with a soft toothbrush, and shave with an electric shaver.
    • Heart medicine helps your heart beat more regularly.
  • Cardiac catheterization is a procedure used to place a patch or plug on the hole through a catheter (thin tube). The catheter is placed into an artery in your groin and guided up to your heart.
  • Open heart surgery may be needed to close the ASD with stitches, a patch, or a piece of your heart tissue.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You have chills, a cough, or feel weak and achy.
  • Your ASD symptoms get worse.
  • You feel your heartbeat is not regular.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You feel lightheaded, short of breath, and have chest pain.
  • You cough up blood.
  • You have any of the following signs of a stroke:
    • Part of your face droops or is numb
    • Weakness in an arm or leg
    • Confusion or difficulty speaking
    • Dizziness, a severe headache, or vision loss
  • The skin between your ribs is being sucked in with each breath.
  • Your lips or nailbeds are blue or white.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.