Atrial Septal Defect in Children: Care Instructions

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The heart


The heart is a muscular pump that has four chambers. An atrial septal defect is an opening in the wall between the upper chambers of the heart. It is a type of congenital heart disease, which means that your child was born with it. When this opening is present, some of the blood may flow from one side of the heart through the hole to the other side. This can strain the heart.

A very small hole may not cause problems. A larger hole may damage the lungs and weaken the heart over time. You and your child's doctor can decide if a procedure to close the hole is right for your child.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with the medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes.
  • Watch for symptoms that may mean there is a problem. Symptoms include feeling dizzy, being too tired to do usual activities, or not gaining weight.
  • Congenital heart disease can increase your child's risk of an infection in the heart. Talk to your doctor about your child's risk. Your child may need to take antibiotics before certain dental or surgical procedures to prevent infection. And be sure your child takes good care of their teeth and gums.
  • Make sure that your child gets all the recommended vaccines, which helps keep your child healthy. Make sure family members and people who are in close contact with your child also get recommended vaccines.
  • Help your child eat heart-healthy foods. These foods include vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, lean meat, fish, and whole grains.
  • Help your child get regular exercise. Ask your doctor what types of activities and how much exercise is safe for your child.
  • Keep your child away from smoke. Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child or in your house. Being around smoke can make your child's heart problems worse.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has trouble breathing.
  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child is dizzy or lightheaded, or your child feels about to faint.
  • Your child has swelling in the legs, ankles, or feet.
  • Your child's skin looks pale or blue.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child is having trouble doing their usual activities.
  • Your child is not gaining weight as expected.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.