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Overview of Ventricular Septal Defect

By Lia Tremblay

Updated October 07, 2008

(LifeWire) - A ventricular septal defect (VSD) means there's an opening in the wall (or septum) between the heart's lower chambers, or ventricles. Sometimes referred to as a "hole in the heart," this condition is present in up to 1% of live births. (You can read about the heart's chambers and valves here.)

Of the heart's four chambers, the two ventricles are most important. The right ventricle pumps oxygen-poor blood to the lungs. The left ventricle receives the newly oxygen-rich blood and pumps it to the rest of the body. When the division between these chambers isn't properly formed, oxygenated blood can mix with oxygen-depleted blood, disrupting the heart's functioning.

If the hole is small, it may cause no symptoms other than a heart murmur (the sound produced by blood rushing through the hole). Small holes will usually repair on their own within the first two years of life.

If the hole is large, an excess of blood pumping to the lungs can lead to congestive heart failure, delayed growth (or "failure to thrive"), arrhythmias or bacterial infections of the heart.

VSD Symptoms

Symptoms may appear immediately or several weeks after birth. They include:

  • Fast, hard breathing
  • Very pale skin
  • Failure to gain weight
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Sweating while feeding
  • Recurring respiratory infections

To diagnose a VSD, doctors may use a number of tests, including a chest x-ray or an echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to create a moving image of the heart.

How Is It Treated?

A small VSD that's causing no complications will usually be monitored with regular checkups to be sure it's healing. A larger hole may require medication, such as a diuretic to remove fluid from the veins and make the heart's job easier.

If a larger VSD doesn't respond to medication and symptoms don't improve, the hole may need surgical repair. This is generally done by age 2, and involves using a cloth patch to cover the hole and restore normal blood flow. Over time, growing heart tissue covers and absorbs the patch.

Prognosis for Someone With a VSD

Whether the defect closes on its own or is surgically repaired, a child with a VSD can look forward to leading a perfectly normal life. While the defect is still present, the child's cardiologist may recommend a limit on physical activity or may suggest high-calorie supplements to promote normal weight gain.

Whether the defect is large or small, those diagnosed with a VSD should always take a preventive antibiotic before having dental work to prevent a potentially life-threatening infection that could enter the bloodstream.


"Ventricular Septal Defect." nlm.nih.gov. 12 May 2008. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. 24 Aug. 2008 <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/MEDLINEPLUS/ency/article/001099.htm>.

"Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD)." americanheart.org. 24 Aug. 2008. American Heart Association. 24 Aug. 2008 <http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=11066>.

"Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD)." nhlbi.nih.gov. 1 Dec. 2007. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health. 24 Aug. 2008 <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/holes/holes_whatare.html>.

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Lia Tremblay is a freelance writer and editor specializing in consumer health care topics. She lives and works in Virginia.

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