Bronchial spasms

What is an atrial septal defect?

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An atrial septal defect is a hole in the septum which is a muscular wall separating the 2 upper chambers of the heart. This is a defect that one is born with that occurs once the septum does not properly form.

Most cases of congenital heart defects are likely triggered by a combination of genetics and factors that involve the mother during pregnancy such as alcohol or drug use as well as other ailments such as lupus, diabetes and rubella. Around 10% of cases of congenital heart issues are triggered by specific genetic defects.

Shortness of breath especially during physical activity is an indication of atrial septal defect.

Is it common?

Atrial septal defect is one of the most form of congenital heart defect and it is quite common among adults. The condition is quite prevalent among women than men though.


Many infants who are born with atrial septal defect do not have any associated indications. Among adults, the indications typically arise at the age of 30 but in some cases, the symptoms might not manifest until decades after.

In case the symptoms arise, it usually includes:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath especially during physical activity
  • Stroke
  • Swollen feet, legs or abdomen
  • Frequent lung infections
  • Palpitations or skipped beats
  • Heart murmur which is a whooshing sound heard with a stethoscope

What are the long-term effects of atrial septal defect?

Generally, the right region of the heart drives blood without oxygen to the lungs while the left region propels blood with oxygen to the entire body. If an individual has atrial septal defect, blood from the right and left sides combine and prevents the heart from working as normally as it should.

If the atrial septal defect is larger than 2 cm, the individual is at higher risk for issues such as:

  • Stroke
  • Right heart enlargement which progresses to heart failure
  • Abnormal heart rhythms including atrial flutter or atrial fibrillation that affects 50-60% of individuals over 40 years old with atrial septal defect
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Leakage from the tricuspid and mitral valves due to an enlarged heart

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