An atrial septal defect is a hole present since birth between the upper chambers of the heart, the atria. When an atrial septal defect is large or has been present for a long time, pressure changes within the heart may lead to symptoms.
A frequent symptom would be shortness of breath with exertion. In general if a significant atrial septal defect is present, repair is recommended to avoid possible complications in the future. Surgery for atrial septal defect is done through a midline sternotomy and the heart/lung machine is used to support the heart while the defect is closed. Often the defect is closed with a small patch. The operation lasts approximately two hours and the patient needs to stay in the hospital 3-4 days.
The risk of the surgery is negligible and because the risk is so low, it is recommended that any patient with an atrial septal defect who is otherwise healthy, undergo closure. Full recovery takes four weeks and the patients have no limitations after that time.