Lagan's Foundation

What are the Symptoms of Ventricular Septal Defects (VSD) in Children?

Ventricular Septal Defects are the most common congenital heart defect amongst children - there are some signs and symptoms of VSDs you should be aware of.

Ventricular Septal Defects are the most common congenital heart defect amongst children. Many can be treated with few to no complications, but there are some signs and symptoms you should be aware of if you suspect your child may have issues with their heart.

What are the Symptoms of Ventricular Septal Defects (VSD) in Children?

What is a Ventricular Septal Defect?

A Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) is a defect of the heart in which there is a hole in the wall that separates the two lower chambers, known as ventricles. 

A VSD occurs during pregnancy when the wall that forms the two ventricles does not fully develop, leaving a hole. VSDs are congenital heart defects, meaning that they are present at birth. 

For babies who are born with a VSD, blood flows from the left ventricle through into the right ventricle, causing extra blood to be pumped into the lungs which in turn causes the heart and lungs to work harder. 

Is a Ventricular Septal Defect life threatening?

If left untreated, a Ventricular Septal Defect can have severe effects on the development and life expectancy of a child’s life. Small holes may close on their own, and may not cause any issues. 

However, if your child has a moderate to large size VSD, they will likely need surgery to prevent any complications. Some complications that can arise include:

  • Heart failure
  • Eisenmenger syndrome
  • Endocarditis
  • Other heart problems, such as arrhythmia


What are signs and symptoms of a Ventricular Septal Defect in children?

Signs and symptoms of a severe Ventricular Septal Defect present at birth will usually show themselves during the first few days, weeks or months of a child’s life. 

The symptoms of a VSD will depend on the size of the hole and if there are any other heart problems present. Small VSDs may never cause any problems, however,  there are some symptoms you may notice, including:

  • Poor eating/feeding
  • Slow physical growth 
  • Fast breathing or breathlessness
  • Becoming tired easily 
  • Whooshing sounds when listening through a stethoscope

You should take your child to see a doctor if you notice any of the above. General signs to look out for include:

  • Your child tires easily when eating or playing 
  • They aren’t gaining weight
  • They become breathless when eating or crying 
  • They breathe rapidly or are short of breath 


What causes a Ventricular Septal Defect?

Although we know a Ventricular Septal Defect occurs during pregnancy, there is still no clear explanation as to why it occurs. However, it is believed there are several factors that could play a role in the development of VSD, including genetics and various things the mother consumes during her pregnancy. 

VSD very rarely occurs later on in life, but they can occur in adults after a heart attack or certain heart procedures. 


How does a Ventricular Septal Defect affect a child?

Children who have a Ventricular Septal Defect can be affected in several different ways, with some suffering from more severe issues than others.

Infants with a large VSD can develop heart failure and may have issues with feeding too, resulting in poor weight gain and stunted growth. They may also suffer from regular chest infections and have breathing difficulties. 

Some children may suffer from endocarditis, which is an infection of the inner surface of the heart caused by bacteria in the bloodstream. In general, good oral hygiene can help to prevent the chances of a child with VSD from getting endocarditis, since the mouth is where a lot of bacteria enters our body. 


How are Ventricular Septal Defects in children diagnosed?

Doctors will usually find a Ventricular Septal Defect in the first few weeks after a baby is born during routine checkups. If they hear a heart murmur, it is generally a good indication that something isn’t right with the heart. 

If your doctor hears a murmur, your child will be referred to a cardiologist who may conduct tests to determine if your child does have a VSD. These tests include:

  • A chest x-ray 
  • An electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • A cardiac catheterisation, which is usually only conducted if your child is found to have a VSD and more information is needed on the blood pressure and oxygen levels


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