Holes in the heart are simple congenital (kon-JEN-ih-tal) heart defects. Congenital heart defects are problems with the heart's structure that are present at birth. These defects change the normal flow of blood through the heart.
The heart has two sides, separated by an inner wall called the septum. With each heartbeat, the right side of the heart receives oxygen-poor blood from the body and pumps it to the lungs. The left side of the heart receives oxygen-rich blood from the lungs and pumps it to the body.
The septum prevents mixing of blood between the two sides of the heart. However, some babies are born with holes in the upper or lower septum.
A hole in the septum between the heart's two upper chambers is called an atrial septal defect (ASD). A hole in the septum between the heart's two lower chambers is called a ventricular septal defect (VSD).
ASDs and VSDs allow blood to pass from the left side of the heart to the right side. Thus, oxygen-rich blood mixes with oxygen-poor blood. As a result, some oxygen-rich blood is pumped to the lungs instead of the body.
Over the past few decades, the diagnosis and treatment of ASDs and VSDs have greatly improved. Children who have simple congenital heart defects can survive to adulthood. They can live normal, active lives because their heart defects close on their own or have been repaired.