Symptoms and causes

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of serious heart defects often appear during the first few days, weeks or months of a child's life.

Ventricular septal defect (VSD) symptoms in a baby may include:

  • Poor eating, failure to thrive
  • Fast breathing or breathlessness
  • Easy tiring

You and your doctor may not notice signs of a ventricular septal defect at birth. If the defect is small, symptoms may not appear until later in childhood — if at all. Signs and symptoms vary depending on the size of the hole and other associated heart defects.

Your doctor may first suspect a heart defect during a regular checkup if he or she hears a murmur while listening to your baby's heart with a stethoscope. Sometimes VSDs can be detected by ultrasound before the baby is born.

Sometimes a VSD isn't detected until a person reaches adulthood. Symptoms and signs can include shortness of breath or a heart murmur your doctor hears when listening to your heart with a stethoscope.

When to see a doctor

Call your doctor if your baby or child:

  • Tires easily when eating or playing
  • Is not gaining weight
  • Becomes breathless when eating or crying
  • Breathes rapidly or is short of breath

Call your doctor if you develop:

  • Shortness of breath when you exert yourself or when you lie down
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Fatigue or weakness

Causes

Congenital heart defects arise from problems early in the heart's development, but there's often no clear cause. Genetics and environmental factors may play a role. VSDs can occur alone or with other congenital heart defects.

During fetal development, a ventricular septal defect occurs when the muscular wall separating the heart into left and right sides (septum) fails to form fully between the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles).

Normally, the right side of the heart pumps blood to the lungs to get oxygen; the left side pumps the oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body. A VSD allows oxygenated blood to mix with deoxygenated blood, causing the heart to work harder to provide enough oxygen to the body's tissues.

VSDs may be various sizes, and they can be present in several locations in the wall between the ventricles. There may be one or more VSD.

It's also possible to acquire a VSD later in life, usually after a heart attack or as a complication following certain heart procedures.

Risk factors

Ventricular septal defects may run in families and sometimes may occur with other genetic problems, such as Down syndrome. If you already have a child with a heart defect, a genetic counselor can discuss the risk of your next child having one.

Complications

A small ventricular septal defect may never cause any problems. Medium or large defects can cause a range of disabilities — from mild to life-threatening. Treatment can prevent many complications.

  • Heart failure. In a heart with a medium or large VSD, the heart needs to work harder to pump enough blood to the body. Because of this, heart failure can develop if medium to large VSDs aren't treated.
  • Pulmonary hypertension. Increased blood flow to the lungs due to the VSD causes high blood pressure in the lung arteries (pulmonary hypertension), which can permanently damage them. This complication can cause reversal of blood flow through the hole (Eisenmenger syndrome).
  • Endocarditis. This heart infection is an uncommon complication.
  • Other heart problems. These include abnormal heart rhythms and valve problems.
Aug. 09, 2017
References
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  3. Fulton DR, et al. Pathophysiology and clinical features of isolated ventricular septal defects in infants and children. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 15, 2017.
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  9. Infective endocarditis. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/CongenitalHeartDefects/TheImpactofCongenitalHeartDefects/Infective-Endocarditis_UCM_307108_Article.jsp#.WR3E59jrvIU. Accessed May 18, 2017.
  10. How should I care for myself, as a caregiver? American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Support/Resources-For-Caregivers_UCM_301850_Article.jsp#.WR3FQNy1vIU. Accessed May 18, 2017.
  11. Congenital heart defects and CCHD. March of Dimes. http://www.marchofdimes.org/baby/congenital-heart-defects.aspx. Accessed May 18, 2017.
  12. Five facts about congenital heart disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/features/heartdefects/. Accessed May 18, 2017.
  13. Atrial fibrillation medications. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Arrhythmia/AboutArrhythmia/Atrial-Fibrillation-Medications_UCM_423781_Article.jsp#.WR76E9jrvcs. Accessed May 18, 2017.
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