Sinus Venosus Atrial Septal Defects Workup

Updated: Dec 15, 2020
  • Author: Gary M Satou, MD, FASE; Chief Editor: Howard S Weber, MD, FSCAI  more...
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Imaging Studies

General laboratory studies are rarely helpful in sinus venosus atrial septal defect (ASD). However, imaging studies help in the evaluation and diagnosis of suspected sinus venosus ASD.

Chest radiography

Findings on chest radiography may include the following:

  • Prominent right atrium
  • Prominent main pulmonary artery
  • Increased heart size and pulmonary vascularity


Echocardiography (ECHO) reveals ASD and most of the pulmonary vein connections in most patients and is the diagnostic modality of choice. [4]

Two-dimensional ECHO with color flow Doppler reveals the position and size of the defect and the presence of anomalous pulmonary venous drainage (in many of these cases). It also helps identify associated anomalies and reveals the left-to-right (or right-to-left) direction of flow and the degree of right ventricular overload.

In a retrospective study, Snarr et al found that the absence of the posterior rim ("bald" posterior wall) is a consistent finding in patients with an inferior sinus venosus defect (SVD) and that it distinguishes an inferior SVD from a large secundum ASD with inferior extension. In transthoracic echocardiograms, the posterior rim was absent in all 15 patients with a surgical diagnosis of inferior SVD, but it was present in all 14 patients with a secundum ASD. For all observers, the diagnostic accuracy of inferior SVDs showed a statistically significant increase with the use of the rim criterion (P< 0.0001). [5]

In children with difficult transthoracic windows, or in older or larger patients, transesophageal echocardiography may be helpful in imaging the defect and pulmonary vein connections. [6] In the current era, cardiac magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)/magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be alternatively used to complete the diagnostic information needed prior to surgery.

Cardiac MRI/MRA

Features that may be seen with MRI/MRA include the following:

  • Atrial septal defect size and location are shown.

  • Excellent delineation of individual pulmonary vein connections can be identified.

  • Right ventricle enlargement and indexing to body surface area (BSA) is available if helpful.

  • Flow-quantification may also be performed.


Note the following:

  • Right ventricular hypertrophy predominates, with a lengthened PR interval and incomplete right bundle branch block secondary to right ventricular dilation (small rSR').

  • Peaked P waves in lead II may demonstrate right atrial enlargement.

  • Abnormal P-wave axis (negative in lead AVF) would indicate a displaced sinus node inferiorly (non sinus atrial rhythm).



Cardiac catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is usually not required in the preoperative assessment of patients with sinus venosus atrial septal defect, but it may be considered in the following circumstances:

  • In any child in whom associated lesions are suspected or in whom pulmonary hypertension is suspected, catheterization is performed to measure pulmonary artery pressure and, if pulmonary resistance is elevated, the response to pulmonary vasodilators.

  • Adults who have the potential for associated coronary atherosclerotic lesions should undergo catheterization to exclude these abnormalities before surgical repair of the sinus venosus atrial septal defect.


Histologic Findings

Patients with pulmonary hypertension and advanced pulmonary vascular obstructive disease may exhibit histologic changes similar to those seen in pulmonary vascular disease. Specifically, these include intimal and medial hypertrophy and, in more advanced lesions, luminal occlusion.