An atrial septal defect is an abnormal opening between the heart’s upper chambers. It is a common congenital (present from birth) heart defect. Smaller atrial septal defects may close on their own during infancy or early childhood or may be diagnosed and treated successfully with few or no complications. However, large and longstanding atrial septal defects can damage the heart and lungs. Large atrial septal defects allow extra blood volume, which can overfill the lungs and overwork the heart. If it is not treated, the right side of the heart enlarges and weakens. Adults who have not been diagnosed for many years may have a shorter life span from heart failure, a stroke, heart rhythm abnormalities or high blood pressure in the lungs. Atrial septal defects are not always diagnosed as early in life as other types of heart problems because the heart murmur it produces is faint and can be difficult for doctors to hear. It may be diagnosed at any time between infancy and adolescence or as late as adulthood.
The UAB Congenital Heart Disease Program offers the most advanced care for congenital (present at birth) heart disease, which often requires lifetime monitoring and care. Our multi-specialty team of pediatric and adult cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, cardiovascular anesthesiologists, and maternal-fetal medicine specialists have unique expertise in treating patients before birth and into adulthood.
UAB Medicine’s modern ultrasound equipment allows many heart defects to be diagnosed before a child is born. Screening exams performed at 18-20 weeks are recommended for expecting mothers or fathers known to have congenital heart disease. If a defect is discovered, our experts provide prenatal treatment and develop a plan for delivery and treatment after birth.
Thanks to advances in pediatric congenital care, the life expectancy for most patients now reaches far into adulthood. However, more than half of the people with congenital heart problems stop seeing a cardiologist once they turn 18. UAB’s Alabama Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program is designed to prevent that gap in care. As the only adult congenital heart disease program in the state and one of only a few in the country, our expertise greatly increases the chances that symptoms will be identified early. This helps ensure that less serious problems are addressed before they develop into larger, more life-threatening issues such as heart failure, arrhythmia, residual congenital heart defects, endocarditis, and stroke.
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