Heart Health Understanding the Heart

What is a Ventricular Septal Defect?

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Summary & Participants

A ventricular septal defect, or VSD, is a hole in the wall between the heart's lower pumping chambers, the ventricles. Find out if you have the warning signs of VSD

Medically Reviewed On: July 21, 2009

Webcast Transcript

ANNOUNCER: Ventricular septal defect, known as VSD, is a hole in the heart wall between the left and right ventricles, which are the lower pumping chambers of the heart. VSD is usually diagnosed and treated in infancy, but if it is not diagnosed until adulthood, serious problems can arise.

JULIE A. KOVACH, MD: The symptoms associated with VSD vary, depending on the size of the ventricular septal defect. In the majority of cases in children, the VSDs that are found in infancy can be moderate to large in size, and the symptoms for the baby can be symptoms of heart failure. For example, breathing rapidly while feeding, becoming sweaty while feeding or being otherwise distressed.

In adulthood, large VSDs typically have already been identified in childhood and are repaired. But if it has not, by the time they've reached adulthood, then irreversible damage to the lungs has been done. And these adults actually will usually present with blueness of the lips, blueness of the fingers, blueness of the toes, and shortness of breath when they walk.

ANNOUNCER: A VSD is usually suspected when a physician hears a heart murmur or when they see an abnormal echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart. Doctors can recommend a variety of treatments for VSD, depending on the size of the defect.

JULIE A. KOVACH, MD: For some people who have very small holes in the wall between the lower two chambers, no treatment at all is necessary at this time, with the exception of taking antibiotics prior to any dental procedures or other procedures that could introduce bacteria into the bloodstream. Generally, those holes are fairly benign for many, many years and no intervention may be necessary.

Children and adults with larger holes in the heart will generally need to have those holes closed in some fashion. Traditionally, closing those holes has been done with an operation in which the chest is opened, the patient is put on the heart-lung bypass machine and a patch is sewn over the holes.

Newer techniques are being developed, however, which will allow closing many of these holes with catheters in a same-day procedure in the catheterization laboratory in the very near future.