Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) | Symptoms | MedStar Health

Ongoing expert care for a hole in the heart

A ventricular septal defect, or VSD, is a hole in the wall separating the heart’s two lower chambers. This hole can allow blood to flow back through the heart instead of being pumped to the rest of the body, which makes the heart have to work harder.

A VSD most often is a congenital heart defect, meaning it’s present from birth. Rarely, adults may develop one after having a heart attack.

Small VSDs in children often close on their own without treatment. Large VSDs and those in adults usually don’t. Whether or not you need treatment, you’ll need regular checkups to make sure no complications or other heart conditions have developed. Our Adult Congenital Heart Center cares for the unique needs of adults with congenital heart defects. The experts in our Structural Heart and Valvular Disease Program provide advanced treatments for patients with VSDs caused by heart damage in adulthood.

What are the symptoms and complications of a VSD?

Small VSDs may not cause any symptoms. In adults, the most common VSD symptoms are shortness of breath and an irregular heartbeat.

Women who have been treated for VSDs that caused problems with their hearts and lungs, as well as women who have VSDs that haven’t been treated, should talk to their doctors before becoming pregnant.

If you have a VSD, you may be at risk for developing other heart conditions, such as:


Your doctor will need to test your heart regularly to make sure you haven’t developed any other heart conditions as a result of your VSD. If you weren’t diagnosed as a child, your doctor may first hear a distinct heart murmur during a regular exam and order other tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Cardiac catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.

Computed tomography (CT) scan

The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.

Chest X-ray

Chest X-rays use a small dose of radiation to create pictures of the structures inside the chest, including the lungs, heart, and chest wall.


An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets, and computer technology to create images of your heart and blood vessels.

Stress tests

Stress tests are used to assess how your heart works during physical activity. There are several types of stress tests, including treadmill or bike stress tests, nuclear stress tests, stress echocardiograms, and chemically induced stress tests.


You may not need treatment for a VSD if it’s small or not causing symptoms. For more severe cases, your doctor may recommend medications or surgical repair.

Heart surgery

Heart surgery is an option to treat many heart conditions. You may need heart surgery either as a lifesaving procedure or when other treatments haven’t worked.

Structural heart and valve disease treatments  

Structural heart and valve disease treatments address defects or abnormalities with the heart’s muscle or valves with or without surgery.

Additional information

Adult congenital heart center

When you’re born with a heart problem, you may need complex care throughout your life. Our experts tailor this specialized care to your unique needs.

Ask MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute

Have general questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at If you have clinically-specific questions, please contact your physician’s office.