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Atrial Septal Defect

Ventricular septal defects belong to the category of congenital (present at birth) heart defects.

What it is

An atrial septal defect is a hole in the wall (the septum) that separates the two upper chambers of the heart. The hole allows freshly oxygenated blood to flow from the left upper chamber of the heart to the right, where it mixes with deoxygenated blood. Then this mix of blood is pumped to the lungs, even though it is already refreshed with oxygen. This extra blood volume can overfill the lungs and overwork the heart. If the blood pressure in the lungs increases, it can lead to pulmonary hypertension as well, which can be fatal.


ASD of a small or medium size may not be revealed by any symptoms. Larger ASD may produce symptoms including:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Frequent respiratory infections in children
  • Sensation of feeling the heart beat (palpitations) in adults
  • Shortness of breath with activity


Anti-depressants: A study published in the British Medical Journal found that maternal use of certain SSRI anti-depressants during pregnancy more than triples an infant’s chance of developing a septal heart defect. SSRI anti-depressants include:

Painkillers: Use of opioid painkillers by a pregnant woman increases her baby’s risk of developing a septal heart defect by nearly 3x, according to an article published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Painkillers include:

Depakote: Babies who are exposed to the antiepileptic drug Depakote while in utero face a more than tripled risk of developing an atrial septal defect compared to unexposed babies, according to research published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Clomid: Exposure to the fertility drug Clomid before birth increases a baby’s risk of septal heart defects by 60%, according to the National Birth Defects Prevention Study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


Medication may be used to treat the symptoms of atrial septal defects. Surgery is usually performed in childhood on ASD to reduce the complications in adulthood. The operation involves plugging or patching the septal hole, either by cardiac catheterization or open-heart surgery.


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