Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Your doctor may first suspect an atrial septal defect during a regular checkup if he or she hears a heart murmur while listening to your heart using a stethoscope. Or an atrial septal defect may be found when an ultrasound exam of the heart (echocardiogram) is done for another reason.

If your doctor hears a heart murmur or finds other signs or symptoms of a heart defect, he or she may request one or more of the following tests:

  • Echocardiogram. This is a commonly used test to diagnose an atrial septal defect. And some atrial septal defects are found during an echocardiogram done for another reason. In echocardiography, sound waves produce a video image of the heart. It allows your doctor to see your heart's chambers and measure their pumping strength. This test also checks heart valves and looks for any signs of heart defects.
  • Chest X-ray. An X-ray image helps your doctor see the condition of your heart and lungs. An X-ray may identify conditions other than a heart defect that may explain your signs or symptoms.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). This test records the electrical activity of your heart and helps identify heart rhythm problems.
  • Cardiac catheterization. In this test, a thin, flexible tube (catheter) is inserted into a blood vessel at the groin or arm and guided to your heart. Through catheterization, doctors can diagnose congenital heart defects, test how well your heart is pumping and check the function of your heart valves. Using catheterization, the blood pressure in your lungs also can be measured. Doctors are investigating catheterization techniques to repair heart defects as well.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI is a technique that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create 3-D images of your heart and other organs and tissues within your body. Your doctor may request an MRI if echocardiography can't definitively diagnose an atrial septal defect.
  • Pulse oximetry. This painless test measures how well oxygen is reaching your tissues. It helps detect whether oxygenated blood is mixing with deoxygenated blood, which can help diagnose the type of heart defect present. A small clip on your fingertip measures the amount of oxygen in your blood.
Dec. 14, 2011