Types of AV canal defects
There are two main types of AV canal defects – partial and complete:
- Partial – there is a hole between the two upper chambers of the heart, which also affects the mitral valve.
- Complete – there is a large hole in the center of the heart that affects the muscular wall (septum) that separates the left and right sides of the heart. A complete defect also causes one large abnormal valve to develop (rather than the two separate valves that normally develop) and the valve may not close properly.
Diagnosis and Treatment Options
After your baby is born, his or her primary pediatrician might notice a heart murmur and order additional tests; however, it is not uncommon for a heart murmur to be absent right at birth so your pediatrician may look for other symptoms.
If your doctor finds any signs of an AV canal defect, your baby likely will undergo additional testing.
Tests that your doctor may order include chest x-ray, echocardiogram (echo), electrocardiogram (EKG), pulse oximetry, cardiac catheterization, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). For more information on these tests, visit our common diagnostic tests page.
The only treatment for AV canal defects is surgery. Having surgery to treat the defect will help your child avoid potential complications, such as:
- Enlargement of the heart
- Heart failure
- High blood pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension)
- Heart infection
The only treatment for AV canal defects is surgery.
During the procedure, the cardiothoracic surgeon will close the holes in the heart. Sometimes, patches are used to close the hole, and these patches will become part of the heart as your child grows. At the same time, defective heart valves also will be repaired. Under rare circumstances, the valve cannot be repaired and may need to be replaced with an artificial valve.
While treating the AV canal defect early in life greatly improves your child’s long-term health, some children who have corrective surgery still may be at risk of developing certain complications later in life, including:
- Leaky heart valves (regurgitation)
- Narrowing of the heart valves (stenosis)
- Heart rhythm abnormalities (arrhythmias)
- Obstruction to blood flow out of the heart
- Breathing difficulties associated with damage to the lungs (pulmonary vascular disease)
Your child will need regular follow-up visits with a heart specialist to monitor his or her progress, avoid complications, and check for other health conditions that might develop as they get older.
Your child also may be required to take antibiotics during dental procedures to prevent infections that may cause inflammation of the heart (endocarditis).
Preventive antibiotics are almost always recommended for people who have artificial valves or who've had repair with prosthetic material. Be sure to ask your doctor about what is right for your child.
Reviewed by: Lauren Kane, MD and Ram Kumar Subramanyan, MD, PhD