Ventricular Septal Defect

Ventricular septal defects occur when there are one or more openings in the wall between the ventricles of the heart. These holes may:

  • Close up by themselves during infancy
  • Lead to heart failure
  • Require surgery
  • Be accompanied by disease of the blood vessels or the lungs
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Symptoms

Small defects in the walls of the heart can often be heard as loud, harsh murmurs in a baby's heart when he or she is several months old. Larger ones can be heard when the baby is only two to three weeks old. By the time the baby is six to eight weeks old, signs of heart failure may appear as flooding of the lungs occurs.

Babies with significant defects or who are in heart failure that has not been stabilized are at a high risk of getting pneumonia and needing mechanical breathing support. The baby's heart may become enlarged. The baby may fail to grow or may develop endocarditis.

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Diagnosis

The following may be used to diagnose this defect or provide additional information before surgery is performed to repair the condition:

  • X-rays which will show enlargement of the heart or enlargement of the left chambers of the heart and increased blood flow in the arteries to the lungs
  • Electrocardiography
  • Echocardiography
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Treatments

Heart failure may be controlled through the use of digitalis (a heart-stimulating drug), increasing the outflow of urine, cutting back on salt and treating lung infections. These treatments may allow the child to grow and develop normally. The heart failure usually disappears by the time the infant is one to two years old as the defect becomes less significant, and surgery may not be needed.

If the baby does not respond to treatment, surgery may be necessary to repair the defect. Large defects that cause an enlarged heart, failure to grow or other symptoms without heart failure may require surgery later in childhood. Any child with this type of heart defect should be treated to prevent endocarditis.

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