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Atrial Septal Defect Symptoms Treatment

The treatment your child receives depends on the type, location, and size of the hole. Other factors include your child's age, size, and general health. Small ASDs don't affect the way the heart works and therefore don't need any special treatment. Many small ASDs close on their own as the heart grows during childhood. Doctors often decide to close an ASD in children who still have medium to large holes by the time they are 2 to 5 years old. It involves catheter or surgical procedures to close the hole.

Catheter procedure

Until the early 1990s, surgery was the usual method for closing all ASDs. Now, thanks to medical advances, catheter procedures can be used to close secundum ASDs, which are the most common type of ASD. This procedure is done under general anesthesia, so the child sleeps throughout and doesn't feel any pain.

During the procedure, the doctor inserts a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) into a vein in the groin (upper thigh) and threads it to the heart's septum. The catheter has a tiny umbrella-like device folded up inside it. When the catheter reaches the septum, the device is pushed out of the catheter and positioned so that it plugs the hole between the atria. The device is secured in place and the catheter is withdrawn from the body. Within 6 months, normal tissue grows in and over the device. There is no need to replace the closure device as the child grows.

Doctors often use echocardiography or a transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) as well as angiography to guide them in threading the catheter to the heart and closing the defect. A TEE is a special type of echocardiography that takes pictures of the heart through the esophagus (the tube leading from the mouth to the stomach).

Catheter procedures are much easier than surgery on patients because they involve only a needle puncture in the skin where the catheter is inserted. This means that recovery is faster and easier. The outlook for children having this procedure is excellent. Closures are successful in more than 9 out of 10 patients, with no significant leakage. Rarely, a defect is too large for catheter closure, so surgery is needed.

Surgery

Open-heart surgery is generally done to repair primum or sinus venosus ASDs. General anesthesia is used so the child will sleep through the operation and not feel any pain.

During this procedure, the surgeon makes an incision in the chest to reach the ASD and repairs the defect with a special patch that covers the hole. The child is placed on a heart-lung bypass machine so that the heart can be opened to perform the operation.

The outlook for children after ASD surgery is excellent. On average, children spend 3 to 4 days in the hospital before going home. Complications, such as bleeding and infection, from ASD surgery are very rare. Some children may develop inflammation of the outer lining of the heart, causing fluid to collect around the heart in the weeks after surgery. This is a reaction to the heart operation and usually resolves with medicine.

While in the hospital, the child is given medicines as needed to reduce pain or anxiety. The doctors and nurses at the hospital teach parents how to care for the child at home. They will talk about preventing blows to the chest as the incision heals, limiting activity while the child recovers, bathing, scheduling followup appointments with the doctor, and determining when the child can resume regular activities.