If you’ve ever asked yourself, “How do doctors repair a hole in the heart?” you probably know that the condition known as “hole in the heart” is a problem with the heart that is present at birth. “Hole in the heart” refers to a hole in the septum—the inner wall of the heart. This wall keeps the oxygen-poor blood from the body from mingling with the oxygen-rich blood from the lungs. Sometimes a hole in the heart is between the upper chambers of the heart (the atria). This is called atrial septal defect (ASD). When a hole in the heart is between the lower chambers (ventricles) it’s called ventricular septal defect (VSD). With either placement of a hole in the heart, doctors now have several possible options for repair.
- Observation. In many cases, a child’s heart will mend on its own. It is likely that very small holes in the heart are never even diagnosed in the first place. But when a small, or even medium-sized, hole is found, the body generally takes care of the problem on its own. In such cases, there is nothing to be done than simple observation. Periodic check ups can alert patients and doctors to potential trouble.
- Surgery. For more serious cases, open heart surgery was the most common way to repair a hole in the heart until the early 1990’s. In certain specialized cases (more often with VSD than ASD), it is still necessary. Repairs to a hole in the heart are usually, though not always, performed on infants and children. Surgery involves making an incision in the chest to reach the hole in the heart, and repairing the hole with a special patch.
- Catheter Procedure. This option for repairing a hole in the heart is less invasive and more common today. During the procedure, a catheter is threaded into a vein in the groin and into the heart’s septum. Once there, an umbrella-like device is pushed out and positioned to cover the hole. Within six months or so normal tissue will grow in and over the device.
Which option is used depends on the size of the hole and its location in the heart, but medical advances have it safer to mend a hole in the heart in a large number of cases.