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Heart and Vascular Center

Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart defects are structural heart problems or abnormalities that a person has when he or she is born.

What causes congenital heart defects?

Congenital heart defects usually have no known cause. In some cases, they may be genetic. They also may occur in the fetus of a woman who has an infection or who is exposed to radiation or other toxic substances during her pregnancy.

Having a congenital heart defect increases the risk for complications, such as heart failure, endocarditis, atrial fibrillation and heart valve problems. Most congenital heart defects are detected shortly after birth, although some are not discovered for years.

The MU Heart and Vascular Center’s team provides state-of-the-art cardiac imaging services to manage heart defects. The imaging technologies include MRI of the heart, CT scan of the heart and echocardiogram or ultrasound of the heart. Specialists at MU use a combination of these technologies for diagnosis and treatment planning.

Atrial Septal Defects and Ventricular Septal Defects

An atrial septal defect is an opening in the wall that separates the upper chambers of the heart. It is one of the most common congenital heart defects, which are structural problems that develop before a baby is born or at birth.

The defect causes some oxygen-rich blood that should pump to the body to flow from one side of the heart to the other. This blood is then pumped to the lungs, creating extra work for one side of the heart.

If an atrial septal defect is large, heart failure may occur, although this is not common in children. Many children have no symptoms and this defect may not be found until adulthood.

Similarly, a ventricular septal defect is an opening in the wall that separates the lower chambers of the heart. Small defects can close on their own, while larger ones may require treatment.

How are these defects treated?

Specialists at the MU Heart and Vascular Center can recommend the treatment that is right for you. Treatment may include a catheter procedure or surgery to close the opening in the heart. Most defects can be closed by catheter-based procedures. This prevents blood from flowing between chambers.

Patent Foramen Ovale

The foramen ovale is an opening in the part of the heart that separates the upper right and left chambers. In a fetus, this opening has a flap of tissue that acts like a one-way door, allowing blood to flow to the left side of the heart without going to the lungs, and it is kept open by the pressure of the blood that passes through it.

Normally, when a baby is born and takes his or her first breath, blood begins to flow through the lungs, and the foramen ovale closes within a few days. Sometimes, this opening remains open (patent) and is called a patent foramen ovale. A patent foramen ovale also may be called a PFO or “hole in the heart.” You might need treatment if other heart defects are present or if you had a stroke caused by a blood clot.

How is PFO treated?

Specialists at the MU Heart and Vascular Center can recommend the treatment that is right for you. A catheter procedure is typically used to close the opening in the heart.

Schedule an Appointment

To schedule an appointment, contact:

Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine:

Cardiothoracic Surgery: 

Vascular Surgery: 

Patient Portal


Hybrid Operating Room

University Hospital's hybrid operating room combines the functions of a catheterization lab with the surgical functions of an operating room, allowing surgeons and cardiologists to perform both open and minimally invasive procedures in the same room.

The advanced facility prevents patients from needing multiple procedures, and it helps assure that they benefit from the collaborative talents of MU's cardiovascular care team.