Atrial Septal Defect

Institutes & Services > Robotic Surgery > Conditions and Procedures > Cardiac and Thoracic Surgery > Atrial Septal Defect

What is Atrial Septal Defect?

An atrial septal defect (ASD) is a congenital heart defect that produces a hole or similar defect in the wall of the atrium, the upper chamber of the heart.

In fetal circulation an opening normally exists between the upper chambers of the heart to allow blood to bypass the lungs. This opening usually closes about the time a baby is born to allow it to begin to breathe and circulate oxygen-enriched blood. An ASD results if the opening continues beyond birth.

Symptoms of Atrial Septal Defect

When no other congenital defect coexists, symptoms of an ASD may be absent, particularly in children. It may be discovered during a routine physical, and confirmed with an echocardiogram. For most other patients, symptoms typically appear by age 30. They usually involve fatigue and shortness of breath. Other symptoms may include:

  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath with activity
  • Sensation of feeling heart beat

With a small-to-moderate ASD, a person may live a normal life span without symptoms. Larger defects may cause disability by middle age because of increased blood flow and shunting of blood back into the pulmonary circulation.

If left untreated, an ASD can result in heart failure or stroke. Individuals with an ASD also may develop complications including infection of the heart, heart failure and an abnormally fast heart rhythm.

Treatment for Atrial Septal Defect

Repair of an ASD may not require treatment if there are few or no symptoms, or if the defect is small. Surgical closure of the defect is recommended if the ASD is large or if symptoms occur.

Traditional “open heart” surgery involves sternotomy – cutting through the breastbone and opening the ribs. This can cause significant trauma, prolong healing time and increase the risk for serious complications and even mortality.

Robotic-Assisted Atrial Septal Defect Repair: A Less Invasive Option

Mitral Valve Repair ComparisonRobotic-assisted atrial septal defect repair is an alternative to conventional open heart surgery. When performed robotically with the da Vinci Surgical System, ASD repair is done with unparalleled precision and control through a few small incisions along the side of the chest.

Benefits of Robotic-Assisted Atrial Septal Defect Repair

In addition to avoiding the pain and trauma of sternotomy and rib spreading, this may provide patient benefits such as:

  • Less risk of infection
  • Less blood loss and need for blood transfusions
  • Shorter hospital stay
  • Significantly less pain and scarring
  • Faster recovery
  • Quicker return to normal activities

As with any surgery, these benefits cannot be guaranteed, as surgery is both patient- and procedure-specific. While robotic-assisted ASD repair is considered safe and effective, it may not be appropriate for every individual. Always ask your doctor about all treatment options, as well as their risks and benefits.

Illustrations courtesy of Intuitive Surgical, Inc. 

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