Atrial Septal Defect Repair in Children—Transcatheter Procedure


An atrial septal defect is a hole in the wall between the 2 upper chambers (right and left atriums) of the heart. A transcatheter procedure is a minimally-invasive way to repair the hole. During this procedure, a device is implanted to seal the hole. As your child recovers, the device will trigger the heart tissue to grow. The tissue will slowly grow over the hole.

Reasons for Procedure    TOP

If a child is born with a hole between the upper chambers of the heart, the blood can flow backward into the right side of the heart and into the lungs. This triggers the heart to work harder. Over time, this can lead to damage to blood vessels in the lungs and congestive heart failure. The procedure is done to fix the hole.

Blood Flow Through the Heart

Blood Flow Through the Heart
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Most children who have this procedure will have good outcomes.

Possible Complications    TOP

Complications are rare, but no procedure is free of risk. Possible complications may include:

  • Bleeding at the point of the catheter insertion
  • Damage to arteries
  • Allergic reaction to x-ray dye
  • Blood clot formation
  • Infection, including endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart muscle
  • Reaction to the anesthesia, such as light-headedness and wheezing
  • Blood clot formation
  • Arrhythmia —abnormal heart beat

Before your child's procedure, talk to the doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your child's risk of complications such as chronic disease such as diabetes or obesity. Low birth weight or a recent infection may increase the risk of complications.

What to Expect    TOP

Prior to Procedure

A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:

  • Blood and urine tests
  • Echocardiogram —a test that uses sound waves to visualize functioning of the heart
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG, EKG)—a test that records the heart's activity by measuring electrical currents through the heart muscle
  • Chest x-ray —a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the chest

You will be told whether your child needs to stop taking certain medication. Ask when your child should stop eating or drinking before the surgery.


General anesthesia will be used. It will block any pain and keep your child asleep through the surgery. It is given through an IV in the hand or arm.

Description of the Procedure    TOP

Your child will receive IV fluid and medicines through a vein in his arm. The catheter (small tube) will be inserted either in the arm or groin. Next, electrodes will be placed on the chest. These electrodes will send information to the EKG machine, allowing the heart to be monitored.

A catheter will be inserted in the blood vessel and advanced so the end is in the heart. Dye will be injected to allow the doctor to view x-ray images of the heart. An echocardiogram may also be used. Before the hole can be covered, the doctor will need to find out the size of the hole. A catheter with a balloon attached to it will be sent to the upper chambers of the heart. The balloon will inflate and measure the hole.

When the size of the defect is known, another catheter will be sent to the heart. This catheter will have a device attached. There are different types of devices available. Some are able to open so that the hole is covered on both sides. Other devices open like an umbrella to cover the defect. After the device is placed, the catheter will be removed. Lastly, a bandage will be placed over the insertion site.

Immediately After Procedure    TOP

Your child will be closely monitored in the intensive care unit (ICU). The hospital staff will:

  • Place pressure on the insertion site and apply a pressure bandage
  • Have your child lie flat

How Long Will It Take?    TOP

1-2 hours

How Much Will It Hurt?    TOP

Your child will have pain and soreness. Your child will be given pain medication.

Average Hospital Stay    TOP

The usual length of stay is 2-4 days. In some cases, your child may be able to go home as soon as the next day. The doctor may choose to keep your child longer if there are complications.

Post-procedure Care    TOP

At the Hospital

When your child is recovering at the hospital, the hospital staff may:

  • Do tests, such as an EKG, chest x-ray, and blood tests.
  • Have your child lie still and flat for several hours. This is to prevent bleeding.
  • Place a pressure bandage to reduce bleeding.
  • Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids to flush the dye from his body.
  • Give pain medication to ease discomfort.

During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your child's chance of infection such as:

  • Washing their hands
  • Wearing gloves or masks
  • Keeping your child's incisions covered

There are also steps you can take to reduce your child's chances of infection such as:

  • Washing your hands and your child's hands often and reminding visitors and healthcare providers to do the same
  • Reminding your child's healthcare providers to wear gloves or masks
  • Not allowing others to touch your child's incisions

At Home

When your child returns home, do the following:

  • Encourage your child to rest. Have him avoid strenuous activities until the doctor says they are okay to resume.
  • Follow all of the doctor’s instructions.

Call Your Child’s Doctor If Any of the Following Occur    TOP

Contact your child's doctor if your child's recovery is not progressing as expected or your child develops complications such as:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Increased sweating
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or any discharge from the catheter insertion site
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Lightheadedness
  • Increased pain
  • Fatigue
  • Rash
  • Loss of appetite or poor feeding
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not urinating

Call for Medical Help Right Away If Any of the Following Occur

Call for medical help or go to the emergency room right away if any of the following occur in your child:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Blue or gray skin color
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Weakness or fainting
  • Signs of a stroke, such as drooping facial muscles, changes in vision or speech, and difficulty walking

In case of an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.


American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


Heart and Stroke Foundation


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Accessed June 6, 2016.
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Accessed June 6, 2016.
Open-heart surgery. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital website. Available at:
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Updated June 2015. Accessed June 6, 2016.
Atrial septal defect. Cove Point Foundation website. Available at:
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Updated May 16, 2011. Accessed June 6, 2016.
Atrial septal defect. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at:
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Accessed May 2013. Accessed June 6, 2016.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 1/27/2014

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