Atrial Septal Defects
An atrial septal defect, or ASD, is a hole between the two upper chambers (atria) of the heart. There are a variety of types with a variety of medical-sounding names (patent foramen ovale, secundum ASD, primum ASD, sinus venosus defect, sinoseptal defect) but most ASDs behave very similarly.
ASDs are very common. All newborns have an ASD (a patent foramen ovale), and in one study, about one in eight normal people had at least a small ASD throughout their lives. When an ASD is large, it can result in poor growth in some children. In addition, over the years an ASD can very gradually lead to irregular heart rhythms, or damage to the heart or lungs. In addition, an ASD may increase the risk of stroke and other blood-clot-related problems in people with certain risk factors for developing blood clots in their veins.
If an ASD is small, and there is no special concern about blood clot formation, it is generally considered safe to avoid any sort of treatment. Treatment, when necessary, can be open-heart surgery, or in many cases an ASD can be closed without surgery using a catheter device.
The prognosis for people with an ASD is generally excellent. It is, however, important to seek out the care of a physician who has a large amount of experience with this particular type of heart problem. Even for an adult with an ASD it often makes sense to consider having an evaluation by a pediatric cardiologist, since they see much more of this sort of heart problem than to adult cardiologists.
For more information about ASDs, try some of the web links below. I cannot vouch for the contents, but with the Internet it's always a case of "browser beware".
American Heart Association
A good site to see a brief description of the different types of heart disease and the treatments available
Boston Children's Hospital
Overview of atrial septal defects
Short descriptions of common CHD's with diagrams.
Congenital Heart Disease Online Handbook
This web page contains a list of Congenital Heart Diseases. Each CHD has the medically accepted abbreviation as well as a short description and a link to detailed definitions of the disease. Some of the CHD's listed have a link to a diagram that graphically shows the disease or defect. There is also a section on surgeries used to correct some of the CHD's listed at this web site, and a section on medications used to treat CHD's.
The Congenital Heart Disease Resource Page
This site is maintained by Sheri Berger, and is a good source of many links, including the congenital heart disease "link ring" (a series of sites on a common topic).
The Children's Heart Society
Specializes in support for families and information.