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Definition  

The heart is divided into four chambers that help circulate blood through the body. The top two chambers are called atria. The bottom two chambers are called ventricles. Two valves are between the upper and lower chambers. Tissue called the septum divides the chambers. The tissue grows as the fetus develops.

An atrioventricular septal defect is present at birth. It occurs when any of the tissues that divide the septum do not grow completely. This leaves one or more holes. It may also leave one leaky valve instead of two separate valves.

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Ventricular Septal Defect  
Ventral septal defect

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Causes  

This condition is caused when the septal tissue fails to grow correctly as the fetus develops in the womb.

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Risk Factors  

Risk factors that increase the chance that a baby will be born with a ventricular septal defect include:

  • A family history of heart defects
  • Down syndrome
  • Alcohol consumption or drug abuse by the mother during pregnancy
  • A mother with diabetes
  • Rubella infection during the first three months of pregnancy
  • Exposure to thalidomide, anticonvulsant medications, or lithium salts while in the womb
  • Exposure to certain industrial chemicals during pregnancy
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Symptoms  

Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty feeding
  • Failing to gain weight
  • Lung congestion
  • Difficulty breathing, especially during feeding
  • Sweating
  • A bluish tint to lips and fingernails
  • Pale skin
  • Frequent pneumonia
  • Lack of appetite
  • Swollen legs or abdomen—rare in children
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Diagnosis  

Your doctor will ask about your baby's symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Most types of congenital heart disease can be identified by listening for a heart murmur.

Your doctor may need pictures of your baby's heart. This can be done with a Chest x-ray .

Your doctor may need information about how your baby's heart functions. This can be done with:

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Treatment  

A doctor may recommend any of the following treatments for your baby:

  • Ongoing observation of the symptoms and the defect
  • Medicines to strengthen the heart, keep the heartbeat regular, or decrease the amount of fluid in circulation
  • Surgery in early childhood to close the hole
  • Antibiotics before and after surgery to reduce the risk of bacterial infections
  • A high calorie diet and/or breastfeeding to manage poor weight gain
  • Limited physical activity depending on the severity of the defect
  • Counseling to help you adjust to your baby's diagnosis and treatment
  • A pacemaker to regulate the heart
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12 Week Fetus  
12 week fetus

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Prevention  

It may not be possible to prevent the condition because the exact cause is unknown. A septal defect can be identified, watched, and treated early in pregnancy and childhood:

  • If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, seek early and regular prenatal care, get exercise, and eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Control your blood sugar levels if you have diabetes.
  • Avoid drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol.
  • A prenatal ultrasound when the fetus is 10-14 weeks old will identify many babies with heart defects.
  • If you have a child with this defect, consult a genetics counselor to find out if your future children are also at risk.