Between the two chambers (atria) of the upper portion of the heart is a wall that keeps oxygenated blood from mixing with deoxygenated blood. However, the said wall may sometimes fail to develop properly. This is what’s known as atrial septal defect or ASD, a heart disease that’s congenital — it is present from birth.
During a baby’s development in the womb, a wall (septum) that separates the upper chambers of the heart forms. There are instance wherein the wall form abnormally, leaving a hole in it that stays around until the baby is born.
Because of the presence of a hole in the septum, oxygenated blood (blood that just came from the lungs) mixes with deoxygenated blood (blood that is about to be pumped into the lungs for oxygenation), causing blood that is already oxygenated to be pumped back into the lungs.
Especially if the hole is a large one, pressure in the lungs can increase (pulmonary hypertension) and the heart can be overworked — something that can cause the heart to become enlarged and weakened, particularly if it’s not treated. Heart enlargement can lead to a number of complications such as abnormality in the heart’s rhythm (arrhythmia), right-sided heart failure and increased risk of stroke.
Just like some other congenital heart defects, medical experts are not really sure what exactly causes ASD to strike. They believe that it can be due to the genes as well as environmental factors that may come into play.
Signs and Symptoms
In babies, ASD does not usually come with signs and symptoms. Usually, the hallmark signs and symptoms of this particular type of congenital heart disease start to appear later on in life, about at the age of 30. However, it is not at all that impossible for them to appear much later on in life.
When ASD do produce signs and symptoms, the individual may have heart palpitations, which can come in the form of rapid, pounding or skipped beats. He or she may experience fatigue and shortness of breath especially when engaging in exercise or strenuous physical activities. Edema (swelling of the abdomen, legs and feet) and frequent infections of the lungs are also some of the common signs and symptoms of ASD.
Using a stethoscope to listen to the sound of the heart of a person suffering from ASD, a doctor may hear what’s called a heart murmur — a whooshing sound coming from within the heart.
Many cases of ASD tend to resolve on their own, meaning the hole in the septum closes during childhood. There are times when the hole fails to close yet require no treatment because it causes nothing that can interfere with the child or adult’s everyday living.
However, ASD that does not go away on its own or causes problems requires surgical treatment, which is recommendable for medium to large holes in the septum. But for someone with severe pulmonary hypertension due to ASD, undergoing surgery to have the problem treated is not recommended.
There are also medications that a doctor may prescribe to someone with ASD, although they are not for treating the congenital heart problem — no drug can cure ASD. The said drugs are given to have some of the signs and symptoms managed effectively.
Lifestyle and Diet
Some people with ASD are capable of exercising without experiencing any problem. A person who experiences shortness of breath and fatigue after working out may ask his or her doctor which forms of exercise are ideal for him or her.
When it comes to the diet, the best one is the kind that is generally good for the heart. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be a diet staple, as well as a couple of servings of fish per week. An individual with ASD should consume whole grains, and he or she should steer clear of foods that are high in sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol.