An atrial septal defect (ASD) is a congenital heart defect (a problem present at birth). Patients with ASD have an abnormal hole in the atrial septum, the wall that separates the heart's two upper chambers. As a result, excess blood flows through the right side of the heart and into the lungs, forcing both organs to work harder.

ASDs vary in size. Any hole larger than a few millimeters across should be closed to prevent permanent damage to the heart and lungs.

In the past, ASD repair required open-heart surgery through an incision in the center of the chest. These days, we can close ASDs with one of these less invasive procedures:

  • Minimally invasive surgical ASD closure. To access the area needing repair, your surgeon makes a small "keyhole" incision between two ribs on the right side of your chest.
  • Cardiac catheterization. In this even less invasive method, the ASD is closed using a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) inserted through a blood vessel in the groin.

Cardiac surgeons perform the keyhole surgery, while a type of doctor called an interventional cardiologist performs catheter-based ASD closures. Advantages over open-heart surgery include less post-op pain, a faster recovery and minimal scarring.