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Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD)

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

What it is

The septum is the wall that separates the left and right ventricles of the heart. When there are one or more holes in the septal wall between the bottom two chambers of the heart, they’re called ventricular septal defects (VSD). Normally, unoxygenated blood is pumped by the right ventricle to the lungs to become oxygenated. It is then pumped back through the heart and through the left ventricle to the rest of the body. When there is a hole in the heart wall between the ventricles, freshly oxygenated blood can mix with the low-oxygen blood. Because this mixed blood does not supply the baby’s body with enough oxygen, the baby’s heart has to work harder to pump more blood out. Eventually this extra work can lead to the left ventricle’s failure, resulting in congestive heart failure.

VSD is one of the most common of the heart malformations and may occur independently or with other defects.


In mild cases, a baby may have no symptoms. With larger defects, symptoms related to heart failure may exist, including:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fast or hard breathing
  • Pale appearance
  • Failure to gain weight
  • Fast heart rate
  • Sweating while feeding
  • Frequent respiratory infections


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


If the hole is small, it may close on its own, making treatment unnecessary. If the VSD is large, the baby may be prescribed medication to reduce the symptoms of congestive heart failure. Surgery is performed on VSD that do not close on their own. Surgical procedures are typically done before the child enters preschool and only if medication has not been effective. Most operations entail putting a Gore-Tex patch over the hole to prevent the mixing of oxygenated and low-oxygen blood.


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