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Ventricular Septal Defect

A ventricular septal defect (VSD) is a hole in the wall or septum of the heart that separates the left and right lower chambers, called ventricles. This hole allows blood to flow from the left ventricle into the right ventricle instead of flowing in the aorta, the main artery that sends oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. Blood from the right ventricle is pumped into the lungs. VSDs are the most common form of congenital heart disease.

Symptoms of a large ventricular septal defect occur from the increased workload on the heart. If the hole in the ventricular wall is large, symptoms may include shortness of breath. The heart also may enlarge and pulmonary hypertension can result.

Most ventricular septal defects (VSD) are discovered during childhood because a murmur, an extra heart sound, is heard during a physical examination. In addition to a physically exam, your doctor may suggest tests including:

  • Chest X-ray to see the heart's size
  • Echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound examination of the heart
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG), which records the heart's electrical activity

Small holes often close without treatment. If the hole is large, it may be treated either with drugs or with open-heart surgery, usually performed in childhood. The surgery consists of covering the hole with a patch, which eventually is covered by normal heart lining tissue. Small holes may be closed without a patch.

Adult patients with a ventricular septal defect (VSD) should be seen by a cardiologist specializing in the care of adults with congenital heart disease to monitor for late complications. Some patients may need to take antibiotics during subsequent surgeries or dental procedures to protect against endocarditis. VSD patients should consult their cardiologists regarding the need for antibiotics.

Most people whose VSDs were repaired in childhood don't have any long-term heart problems. However, some may require continuous treatment with diuretics and blood pressure medications to help the heart pump better. If there is a leak around the VSD patch, patients should continue to receive endocarditis prevention treatment.

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

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Heart & Vascular Center

Cardiology Clinic at Mount Zion
1600 Divisadero St., Suite C-244
San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: (415) 885-3666
Fax: (415) 885-3676
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Cardiovascular Care and Prevention Center at Mission Bay
535 Mission Bay Blvd. South
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353-2873
Fax: (415) 353-2528
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Congenital Heart Disease Clinic
535 Mission Bay Blvd. South
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353-2873
Fax: (415) 353-8687
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