A ventricular septal defect is a birth defect characterized by a small hole between the right and left ventricles of the heart that does not close after birth as it normally should.

PubMed Health, a service of the United States National Library of Medicine, explains it this way:

“Before a baby is born, the right and left ventricles of its heart are not separate. As the fetus grows, a wall forms to separate these two ventricles. If the wall does not completely form, a hole remains. This hole is known as a ventricular septal defect, or a VSD.

Ventricular septal defect is one of the most common congenital heart defects. The baby may have no symptoms, and the hole can eventually close as the wall continues to grow after birth. If the hole is large, too much blood will be pumped to the lungs, leading to heart failure.”[1]

Most often, a VSD will close shortly after birth, and the affected baby will have no symptoms nor will he or she suffer any significant health problems.[2]

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Sometimes, however, a VSD does not close on its own, and the infant will require medication and surgery to ensure healthy development.  PubMed Health explains, “Babies with a large VSD who have symptoms related to heart failure may need medicine to control the symptoms and surgery to close the hole. Medications may include digitalis (digoxin) and diuretics.

If symptoms continue even with medication, surgery to close the defect with a Gore-tex patch is needed. Some VSDs can be closed with a special device during a cardiac catheterization, although this is rarely done.”[3]

While most of the time ventricular septal defects are treated safely, if a large defect goes untreated, severe complications may occur, including “Aortic insufficiency (leaking of the valve that separates the left ventricle from the aorta),”[4] “damage to the electrical conduction system of the heart during surgery (causing an irregular heart rhythm),”[5] “delayed growth and development (failure to thrive in infancy),”[6] “heart failure,”[7] “infective endocarditis (bacterial infection of the heart),”[8] and “pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs) leading to failure of the right side of the heart.”[9]

Ventricular Septal Defects and Maternal SSRI Use During Pregnancy

Recently, a great deal of research has come out linking maternal use of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy with an increased risk of bearing children with birth defects.  SSRI drugs such as Zoloft® and Paxil® regulate levels of serotonin in the brain, a chemical involved in mood regulation, and recently found to play a key role in fetal development.  Because any medication used by an expecting mother is also passed to the developing child, the developing child’s serotonin levels become altered as well as a result of SSRI use during pregnancy, resulting in an increased risk of a variety of birth defects.

Much research has been published within the last decade linking maternal SSRI use with birth defects in general, but recently a specific link between SSRI use and ventricular septal defects has been established.  A 2011 study published by Dr. Heli Malm et al. in the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology titled “Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and Risk for Major Congenital Anomalies” has conclusively shown that fluoxetine (Prozac®) use during pregnancy doubles the risk of ventricular septal defects in children.

Prognosis for Ventricular Septal Defects

Thankfully, the prognosis for most ventricular septal defects is good.  PubMed Health reassures, simply stating, “Many small defects will close on their own. Surgery can repair defects that do not close.”[10]

Our SSRI Birth Defects Lawsuit Information page is a great place to start if you have any questions about SSRIs and Birth Defects.

[1] “Ventricular Septal Defect – PubMed Health” PubMed Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. © 2012 A.D.A.M., Inc. Available at <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002089/> Accessed 30 January 2013

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.