Suspect Something Is Not Quite Right With Your Infant's Circulation? Could It Be A Septal Defect?

If you've spent your infant's first few weeks or months of life battling between joy at your new addition and a nagging concern that something just isn't right, you may feel reluctant to raise these murky worries with your pediatrician for fear of being dismissed as an overworried new parent. However, the intuition of someone who spends nearly every waking hour with an infant can often be the clearest indication of a latent health issue, and a number of cardiac defects can go undiagnosed until they begin to affect your child's health. Read on to learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of atrial septal defects (ASDs) and ventricular septal defects (VSDs) so that you'll be in a position to make the most well-informed decision for your child. 

What are some signs your infant is dealing with an undiagnosed septal defect? 

Many congenital heart defects, including septal defects, can be relatively symptom-free until your infant's older years, when the diminished circulation or decreased amount of oxygen in the blood can lead to growth or cognitive complications. However, there are some subtle signs and symptoms that can indicate the presence of an ASD or VSD even in a newborn or infant. 

An ASD Involves a hole in the atrium, which routes blood to the left side of the heart and through the body after it's taken on oxygen in the lungs. Depending upon the size of the hole, a small, medium, or large amount of oxygenated blood may "back flow" into the lungs, providing little benefit to the rest of the body. 

Although the heart can continue to function (and often well) with this unbalanced blood flow, as your child grows larger, his or her heart may endure extra strain as it tries to pump and process enough blood to power the entire circulatory system while losing a portion of this oxygenated blood back into the lungs. 

Some signs of an ASD include poor feeding or growth, swelling in the hands and feet (due to the body's decreased ability to process and flush out fluids), blue-tinged lips or fingernails, and shortness of breath. If your infant has a very quiet or weak cry or appears to have trouble catching his or her breath after crying for a brief period of time, this may be due to low oxygen saturation caused by an ASD or VSD. 

A VSD is largely the same as an ASD, except that the hole is in the heart's ventricle rather than atrium – the oxygenated blood flows from one ventricle through the atrium to the other ventricle and then back into the lungs, rather than being pumped through the body. In almost all cases, a VSD will present with a distinct heart murmur that can be observed by a pediatrician or nurse. 

A pediatric cardiologist at a place like Alpert Zales & Castro Pediatric Cardiology should be able to give your infant an echocardiogram or other diagnostic tests to confirm the presence of a murmur and determine whether it's the result of an ASD or VSD that requires treatment.  

What are the treatment options for ASD and VSD?  

Even if your child's ASD or VSD is primarily asymptomatic, it's usually important to correct this defect as soon as possible, before it has the opportunity to impede your child's growth or development. 

Both defects can generally be resolved through surgery to repair the hole and ensure blood is flowing through the appropriate ventricles. While premature infants or those with complicating conditions (like other congenital organ defects) may not be strong enough for this surgery at birth, many other infants are able to successfully undergo septal repair even at a very young age, providing them with the greatest opportunity for a healthy and active childhood.