The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has issued full guidance to the NHS in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on endovascular closure of atrial septal defect.


An atrial septal defect is the persistence of a hole (the foramen ovale) in the wall (septum) between the right atrium and left atrium of the heart.  The foramen ovale usually closes spontaneously after birth; an atrial septal defect is present when this closure does not occur. In the most common type, an ostium secundum atrial septal defect, the septum between the atria fails to form properly during foetal development, resulting in a permanent hole. An atrial septal defect allows blood to flow from the left atrium to the right atrium, so increasing the flow of blood to the lungs. This is known as a shunt. Patients with atrial septal defects are usually asymptomatic through infancy and childhood. Symptoms such as exertional dyspnoea, fatigue, palpitations and syncope can occur and increasing age carries an increasing risk of stroke. Some patients may develop congestive heart failure.

Endovascular closure of an atrial septal defect involves making a small incision in the groin to introduce a guidewire and delivery sheath into the femoral vein. An occluder device is then introduced through the delivery sheath on a semi-rigid cable and expanded within the atrial septal defect to close it. Echocardiography and fluoroscopic guidance are used to determine the size and position of the defect and to place the occluder device. A balloon may be used to measure the diameter of the defect. People can usually go home the next day. Small residual shunts after the procedure often resolve as endothelial tissue grows over and around the device. The claimed advantages compared with open surgery are shorter hospital stay, earlier return to normal activities and fewer complications.

Guidance development process

How we develop NICE interventional procedures guidance

Coding and clinical classification codes for this guidance

Your responsibility

This guidance represents the view of NICE, arrived at after careful consideration of the evidence available. When exercising their judgement, healthcare professionals are expected to take this guidance fully into account, and specifically any special arrangements relating to the introduction of new interventional procedures. The guidance does not override the individual responsibility of healthcare professionals to make decisions appropriate to the circumstances of the individual patient, in consultation with the patient and/or guardian or carer. 

All problems (adverse events) related to a medicine or medical device used for treatment or in a procedure should be reported to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency using the Yellow Card Scheme.

Commissioners and/or providers have a responsibility to implement the guidance, in their local context, in light of their duties to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations. Nothing in this guidance should be interpreted in a way that would be inconsistent with compliance with those duties. Providers should ensure that governance structures are in place to review, authorise and monitor the introduction of new devices and procedures.

Commissioners and providers have a responsibility to promote an environmentally sustainable health and care system and should assess and reduce the environmental impact of implementing NICE recommendations wherever possible.