Atrial septal defects are the third most common type of congenital heart disease. Included in this group of malformations are several types of atrial communications that allow shunting of blood between the systemic and the pulmonary circulations. Most children with isolated atrial septal defects are free of symptoms, but the rates of exercise intolerance, atrial tachyarrhythmias, right ventricular dysfunction, and pulmonary hypertension increase with advancing age and life expectancy is reduced in adults with untreated defects. The risk of development of pulmonary vascular disease, a potentially lethal complication, is higher in female patients and in older adults with untreated defects. Surgical closure is safe and effective and when done before age 25 years is associated with normal life expectancy. Transcatheter closure offers a less invasive alternative for patients with a secundum defect who fulfil anatomical and size criteria. In this Seminar we review the causes, anatomy, pathophysiology, treatment, and outcomes of atrial septal defects in children and adult patients in whom this defect is the primary cardiac anomaly.
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