What is a ventricular septal defect?
Babies with a ventricular septal defect (VSD) are born with a hole in the wall of the heart (septum) that separates the two lower chambers (ventricles). VSD is the most common heart defect and happens when a baby’s septum does not fully develop during pregnancy. The exact cause is unknown. In a recent study in Atlanta, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 42 of every 10,000 babies born had a VSD.
When a heart is functioning normally, the right side of the heart pumps blood to the lungs where the blood picks up oxygen; the left side of the heart then pumps the oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. In babies with VSD, blood that should be on the left side of the heart leaks into the right, so all of that extra blood gets pumped back into the lungs. This forces the heart and lungs to work harder, which can increase your baby’s risk for other medical problems.
How is a VSD diagnosed?
A VSD is most often diagnosed after your baby is born. If the hole is small, your baby might not have any symptoms and the hole may close on its own. If the hole is large, your baby might have any of these symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Fast or labored breathing
- Tiring during feeding
- Poor weight gain
While examining your baby, your doctor will first listen for a heart murmur with a stethoscope. If the doctor hears a murmur or if your baby is showing symptoms of a VSD, tests may be done to confirm the diagnosis. The most common test is an echocardiogram, which is a painless test that uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart. Other tests may include a chest X-ray, an EKG or an MRI.
How is a VSD treated?
If the defect is small, it may repair itself over time. However, your baby will still need frequent monitoring to make sure the hole closes properly and there are no complications.
If the hole is large or does not close on its own, your baby may need a cardiac catheterization procedure or open-heart surgery to close the hole and restore normal blood flow.
How will a VSD affect my baby during and after surgery?
During surgery, your baby will be given general anesthesia, which means the baby will be comfortable and sleeping. After surgery, your baby will need to stay in a cardiac intensive care unit (CICU) for the first few days and may be connected to several tubes and wires to allow your baby’s doctor to best monitor the baby’s condition. Pain control will be used to make sure your baby is comfortable.
Most of the tubes and wires will be disconnected before your baby leaves the CICU, after which he or she will spend several more days in the hospital in a step down unit.
Most children who have a VSD that closes (either on its own or with surgery) go on to live healthy lives.
Photo credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.