What Is Atrial Septal Defect?


Heart health


By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder 


When I imagine stroke victims, most twenty-somethings do not come to mind. But a young woman named Veronica Cardello, however, gave me a different perspective. At just 27-years-old, Veronica experienced an extremely scary event where she had a stroke in the shower one morning. 

I couldn't do anything. I couldn't get up, I couldn't talk. It was at that moment that I was beyond scared for my life," she said, according to one report provided by the American Heart Association.

Fortunately, she was living with family at the time, and her father insisted that she go to the hospital.

At the hospital, an X-ray and CT scan both came back normal. Veronica was weak, but she could move around with help. She was speaking more clearly. Abnormal results on a urine test led to a diagnosis of a bacterial infection. She was sent home.”

Veronica left the hospital thinking that this was just a random incident, but a couple of days later she experienced numbness in her arm and leg as well as difficulty speaking. Her doctor recommended that she have an MRI.

It was determined that she had “every symptom of having a stroke,” but over a period of eight months doctors could not determine what caused it.

"Test after test proved that I was 'normal,'" Veronica said, "until one doctor was brave enough to take a closer look."

Finally, after having an ultrasound of the heart the mystery was solved. She had an atrial septal defect.

What is atrial septal defect (ASD)?

Atrial septal defect is a birth defect of the heart. Essentially, it is a “hole” in the wall that separates the top two chambers of the heart.

“Normally, blood cannot flow between the two upper heart chambers. However, an ASD allows this to happen,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“When blood flows between the two heart chambers, this is called a shunt. Blood most often flows from the left to the right side. When this happens the right side of the heart enlarges. Over time pressure in the lungs may build up. When this happens, the blood flowing through the defect will then go from right to left. If this occurs, there will be less oxygen in the blood that goes to the body.”

Reportedly, ASD is the third most common congenital heart defect. It is also more common in women and men. 

In regards to Veronica, her doctors feared that the hole in her heart may lead to another stroke. She had the heart surgically closed.

In some people with ASD, the hole is so small that surgery may not be recommended. According to Cleveland Clinic, if the hole is larger than two centimeters it increases the risk of:

  • Heart failure
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Stroke
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Leaking in the heart caused by having an enlarged heart

Fortunately, Veronica came out of the surgery well.

“Ever since, she's been devoted to a healthy lifestyle. She eats a Mediterranean diet, runs and lifts weights,” according to the American Heart Association report referenced earlier.

What causes ASD?

In most cases, it is simply an issue with genetic abnormalities that can occur when a woman is pregnant. However, in some cases, it may be caused by alcohol and drug use while pregnant. Other risk factors include being pregnant and having diseases such as lupus, diabetes and rubella.

Preconception and prenatal health and nutrition are key. For example, if you are diabetic but want to have a baby you may want to get this condition under control before trying to conceive. You also want to make sure that your partner is healthy as well. 

Symptoms of ASD?

It’s quite common for a person to not experience any symptoms until they have an incident like Veronica did, but symptoms of ASD may include shortness of breath, fainting, fatigue after light exercise and irregular heart rhythms.

ASD is usually diagnosed through chest x-rays, electrocardiograms and other tests. Reviewing your family health and genetic history is a way to be proactive about this condition by seeing if you are at a greater risk of having this defect.

And, as always, a healthy lifestyle which includes following a nutrient-rich diet and exercising regularly will always go a long way.


Enjoy your healthy life!


Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor or another competent healthcare practitioner to get specific medical advice for your situation.                        

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here. 


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