A small atrial septal defect may never cause any problems. Small atrial septal defects often close during infancy.

Larger defects can cause mild to life-threatening problems, including:

  • Right-sided heart failure
  • Heart rhythm abnormalities
  • Shortened life expectancy
  • Increased risk of a stroke

Less common serious complications may include:

  • Pulmonary hypertension. If a large atrial septal defect goes untreated, increased blood flow to your lungs increases the blood pressure in the lung arteries (pulmonary hypertension).
  • Eisenmenger syndrome. In rare cases, pulmonary hypertension can cause permanent lung damage, and it becomes irreversible. This complication, called Eisenmenger syndrome, usually develops over many years and occurs only in a small percentage of people with large atrial septal defects.

Treatment can prevent or help manage many of these complications.

Atrial septal defect and pregnancy

Most women with an atrial septal defect can tolerate pregnancy without any problems. However, having a larger defect or having complications such as heart failure, arrhythmias or pulmonary hypertension can increase your risk of complications during pregnancy. Doctors strongly advise women with Eisenmenger syndrome not to become pregnant because it can endanger the woman's life.

The risk of congenital heart disease is higher for children of parents with congenital heart disease, whether in the father or the mother. Anyone with a congenital heart defect, repaired or not, who is considering starting a family should carefully discuss it beforehand with a doctor. Some medications may need to be stopped or adjusted before you become pregnant because they can cause serious problems for a developing fetus.

Dec. 14, 2011