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A ventricular septal defect (VSD) is the most common type of congenital heart defect. The heart has two upper chambers (atria) and two lower chambers (ventricles). In a healthy heart, the wall that separates the lower two chambers is called the septum. In a baby with VSD, there is a hole in the wall between the ventricles.

This hole allows blood to flow from the left ventricle into the right, which can affect blood flow and how oxygen circulates throughout the body. The hole can range from small to large. Doctors usually spot symptoms of a hole in the heart early and can recommend a treatment plan.

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Symptoms and Diagnosis of VSD

Most often, doctors spot the defect within the first few weeks of a baby’s life. The baby’s doctor may hear a murmur, an extra sound in the heartbeat, when listening to the heart. Although heart murmurs are common, those associated with VSD sound different.

Other symptoms of a hole in the heart include trouble gaining weight, fatigue with feeding, and anemia.

If a doctor thinks your baby may have VSD, imaging tests may be recommended to see how the blood is flowing in the heart and determine the size of the defect. Other tests may include an electrocardiogram, chest x-ray, or echocardiogram to view the defect and how the blood is pumping through the heart.

Treatment for VSD

Small heart defects may close on their own. If your baby’s heart works normally despite the hole, your doctor may recommend keeping an eye on the condition rather than opting for surgery. A larger defect that causes more symptoms may require intervention. If left untreated, a larger hole can cause the right ventricle to overwork and lead to heart damage.

Surgery is necessary to correct a large VSD. Depending on the VSD, this could be done through open-heart surgery or a transcatheter approach. If surgery is chosen, a surgeon will close the hole with stitches or a mesh patch. With a patch, tissue will grow over the material, sealing the hole in the septum. The transcatheter approach is a nonsurgical procedure done in the cardiac catheterization lab using a wire mesh device.

Most children who undergo treatment experience no complications and have a full recovery. Your doctor will also keep a close eye on your child in the coming years to ensure a strong and healthy heart.

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh ranks consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital is a longtime national leader for women and their newborns. We aim to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond.