Atrial Septal Defect

Atrial Septal Defect is a heart defect present at birth that results in a hole between the upper chambers of the heart. The hole is the result of abnormal tissue formation during fetal development and is more common in patients born prematurely.

Until recently, open-heart surgery was required to fix large ASDs, but UNC now repairs many such defects with minimally invasive techniques. In those cases, a closure device is threaded through a catheter in the femoral artery, requiring only a small incision in the upper leg. This greatly reduces recovery time to less than 24 hours, and allows the patient to resume normal activities within a week.

While minimally invasive techniques are a leap forward in the treatment of ASDs, it’s important to note that the technique is not appropriate for every such defect. Atrial Septal Defect is commonly associated with other heart defects, so it’s crucial that all patients diagnosed with the heart defect be thoroughly evaluated by a cardiologist to determine the best method of therapy.

Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO)

Patent Foramen Ovale is a small hole between the upper chambers of the heart, and exists in approximately 20% of the population. While the hole exists naturally during fetal development to allow for the proper flow of blood from the right side of the heart to the left, it normally closes within the first two years after birth. Though a small connection is usually considered inconsequential, there is some evidence that PFO may be associated with an increased risk of stroke, and may possibly contribute to the development of migraines.

UNC has experts in the treatment of stroke and PFO. Our cardiologists work closely with neurologists to determine the best approach.

There are several treatments currently used for PFO, including the closure device for ASD, described above. However, the FDA has not approved closure devices for this particular use, so they’re considered “off-label.” While closure of the PFO can be performed safely in almost all cases, thorough evaluation by a qualified cardiologist is necessary to ensure the optimal course of action is followed.


Elman Frantz, MD
Michael Yeung, MD

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Call the Heart & Vascular Center referral line at 866-862-4327 to find specialists, make an appointment or learn more about preventing heart disease.

Open Access is a new physician referral service, created by the UNC Center for Heart & Vascular Care, which coordinates all admissions and transfers through a single phone call and guarantees immediate acceptance for patients. Please contact us to learn more or call 866-862-4327.

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