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Heart Wall Defects

A nonsurgical, catheter closure of a defective opening in the wall of the heart’s atria using an occluder device. Image courtesy St. Jude Medical Co.

With intimately connected chambers, each with highly specific functions, hearts highly structured for coordinated, supportive roles in pumping blood. But in this way, unfortunately not all are created equal. Many people have slight to significant abnormalities in this anatomy, and most of these are present from birth. Often these differences in shape or competency of the heart’s partitions are mild and have no ill effects, while in other cases they compromise the heart’s ability to do its job, sometimes only becoming practically apparent later in life.

Most Common Heart Wall Abnormalities

The most common chamber wall defects are:

  • holes in the wall (or septum) between the heart’s two atria, the smaller upper chambers of the heart. This condition is called an atrial septal defect (or ASD) and is the result of a failure of the atrial tissue to develop properly in the fetus, and so is a congenital defect. A patent foramen ovale is a similar condition in which the atrial wall fails to close completely (a part of normal newborn development) after birth.
  • holes in the wall between the heart’s two ventricles, the larger lower chambers of the heart. This condition is call a ventricular septal defect (or VSD).

A good quarter or more of the population has one of these types of “holes in the heart.” Most are never aware of it and have no significant effects. But in some patients these defects are large enough to cause problems, including the risk of blood clots due to abnormal blood flow in the heart. This can bring danger of stroke. For such defects, Lourdes cardiologists can offer treatments, normally starting with conservative care first, through medications that prevent blood clots.

They can also offer the option of closing these holes in the interior heart wall with a nonsurgical catheter procedure. This intervention involves plugging the leaking hole with a mesh-like device, over which heart tissue can grow and close (see figure).

Other Stroke Prevention

Patients who suffer from atrial fibrillation (a rapid, uncontrolled heart rhythm) can develop clots due to pooling of blood in a normal feature of the heart called the atrial appendage. This small pouchlike outcropping of the left atrium many need to be sealed off with a device called the Watchman. Learn more.

In addition, the cardiothoracic surgery program at Lourdes offers open-heart surgery to correct heart wall defects when other more conservative or less-invasive steps are not adequate. The team uses the least invasive surgical access approaches whenever possible. Learm more.

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