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What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Holes in the Heart?

Atrial Septal Defect

Many babies who are born with atrial septal defects (ASDs) have no signs or symptoms. However, as they grow, these children may be small for their age.  

When signs and symptoms do occur, a heart murmur is the most common. A heart murmur is an extra or unusual sound heard during a heartbeat.

Often, a heart murmur is the only sign of an ASD. However, not all murmurs are signs of congenital heart defects. Many healthy children have heart murmurs. Doctors can listen to heart murmurs and tell whether they're harmless or signs of heart problems.

If a large ASD isn't repaired, the extra blood flow to the right side of the heart can damage the heart and lungs and cause heart failure. This generally doesn't occur until adulthood. Signs and symptoms of heart failure include:

  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Tiring easily during physical activity
  • Shortness of breath
  • A buildup of blood and fluid in the lungs
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, abdomen, and veins in the neck

Ventricular Septal Defect

Babies born with ventricular septal defects (VSDs) usually have heart murmurs. Murmurs may be the first and only sign of a VSD. Heart murmurs often are present right after birth in many infants. However, the murmurs may not be heard until the babies are 6 to 8 weeks old.

Most newborns who have VSDs don't have heart-related symptoms. However, babies who have medium or large VSDs can develop heart failure. Signs and symptoms of heart failure usually occur during the baby's first 2 months of life.

The signs and symptoms of heart failure due to VSD are similar to those listed above for ASD, but they occur in infancy.

A major sign of heart failure in infancy is poor feeding and growth. VSD signs and symptoms are rare after infancy. This is because the defects either decrease in size on their own or they're repaired.

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Last Updated: July 1, 2011