Atrial septal defect (ASD) is basically a hole in the heart. This condition is present at birth, but may remain undiagnosed until a person is well into adulthood. In some cases, a small hole closes on its own during infancy. But if a person reaches adulthood before the defect is found, usually the defect is larger. Once symptoms start to occur, open heart surgery is usually necessary to repair the damage. It is usually the development of symptoms as an adult that leads to the discovery of ASD.
The main signs and symptoms of an ASD are heart problems. These problems vary from person to person. Small defects usually don’t cause any symptoms. But larger atrial septal defects do. One symptom of a possible ASD is heart murmurs. This is a “whooshing sound that can be heard through a stethoscope” reports the Mayo Clinic in its article “Atrial Septal Defect.” Heart palpitation also may occur. Arrhythmias are also a possible sign. With arrhythmias, the heart beats irregularly. The American Heart Association states that heart failure may be a sign of ASD. If the defect has been undetected for many years, there is probably damage to the heart. In some cases, the damage may be extensive.
The main lung symptom of a possible ASD is shortness of breath. This may be especially noticeably while exercising or engaging in other activities, reports the Mayo Clinic. Having many lung infections over the years is another sign. According to the Mayo Clinic, pulmonary hypertension is another sign of an atrial septal defect. With an undiagnosed ASD “increased blood flow to your lungs increases the blood pressure in the lung arteries” and this is pulmonary hypertension. In rare cases, people with long-term pulmonary hypertension develop irreversible lung damage. This condition is called Eisenmenger syndrome.
Other Symptoms and Signs
Fatigue is a common symptom of those with ASD. A person gets tired after any activity, no matter how mild. The Mayo clinic says that swelling of the abdomen, hands and feet and a bluish color to the skin are also signs of an atrial septal defect. Fainting is another sign of ASD, reports the American Heart Association. Even a stroke can be a sign of an atrial septal defect, according to the Mayo Clinic.