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Ventricular Septal Defect in Infants
Q: My infant son was diagnosed with Ventricular Septal Defect. I would like any information you could give. How serious is it? At what stage in the pregnancy does it occur? Any explanation as to why it occurs? Is it very common? He will be seeing the Cardiologist in two weeks. It was suspected by the pediatrician in the hospital. Consequently, he called in the Pediatric Cardiologist who confirmed the diagnosis. Thanks for your help.
A: Overall, all types of congenital (present at birth) heart defects occur in about 8 of every 1,000 infants born. A baby's heart is fully formed by three months after conception and, in most cases, there is no known cause for the defect. Many children's heart defects repair themselves within 12 months. In fact, some congenital heart defects are so mild that they do not require any treatment and may not even be noticed until the child grows. It is also true, however, that there are some forms that can be life threatening in the first few weeks of life.
Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) is a type of congenital heart defect and represents the most common abnormality of the structure of the heart. A VSD is a hole in the wall between two of the heart chambers that normally isn't there. This allows blood to flow from the left ventricle to the right ventricle, which can result in more blood than usual going to the lungs. Unless it is severe, many infants with a VSD can have no symptoms at all. In the more severe forms, it can cause tiredness, poor heart function, high blood pressure in the lungs, poor feeding, and poor weight gain.
By your description, it sounds like your infant son has a very mild form of VSD, which therefore may resolve on its own. If it doesn't, surgery may be required when he is two or three years old where a patch would be placed over the hole to close it. The goals of any treatment are to insure your son grows well, to prevent the development of lung damage, and to prevent infection. A Pediatric Cardiologist will be better able to evaluate your son's VSD further and give you recommendations specific to him.
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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.