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Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA)

Anatomy of the heart, normal
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What is a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)?

PDA is a heart problem that is usually noted in the first few weeks or months after birth. It is characterized by a connection between the aorta and the pulmonary artery which allows oxygen-rich (red) blood that should go to the body to recirculate through the lungs.

All babies are born with this connection between the aorta and the pulmonary artery. While your baby was developing in the uterus, it was not necessary for blood to circulate through the lungs because oxygen was provided through the placenta. During pregnancy, a connection was necessary to allow oxygen-rich (red) blood to bypass your baby's lungs and proceed into the body. This normal connection that all babies have is called a ductus arteriosus.

At birth, the placenta is removed when the umbilical cord is cut. Your baby's lungs must now provide oxygen to his/her body. As your baby takes the first breath, the blood vessels in the lungs open up, and blood begins to flow through to pick up oxygen. At this point, the ductus arteriosus is not needed to bypass the lungs. Under normal circumstances, within the first few days or weeks after birth, the ductus arteriosus closes and blood no longer passes through it. Most babies have a closed ductus arteriosus by 72 hours after birth.

Anatomy of a heart with a patent ductus arteriosus
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In some babies, however, the ductus arteriosus remains open (patent) and becomes a problem, PDA. The opening between the aorta and the pulmonary artery allows oxygen-rich (red) blood to pass back through the blood vessels in the lungs.

PDA is the sixth most common congenital heart defect, occurring in 6 to 11 percent of all children with congenital heart disease. Patent ductus arteriosus occurs twice as often in girls as in boys.

What causes patent ductus arteriosus?

In many children, there is no known reason for the ductus arteriosus remaining open. However, PDA is seen more often in the following:

Some congenital heart defects may have a genetic link, either occurring due to a defect in a gene, a chromosome abnormality, or environmental exposure, causing heart problems to occur more often in certain families. Most often, a PDA occurs sporadically (by chance), with no clear reason for its development.

PDA can also occur in combination with other heart defects.

Why is PDA a concern?

When the ductus arteriosus stays open, oxygen-rich (red) blood passes from the aorta to the pulmonary artery, mixing with the oxygen-poor (blue) blood already flowing to the lungs. The blood vessels in the lungs have to handle a larger amount of blood than normal. How well the lung vessels are able to adapt to the extra blood flow depends on how big the PDA is and how much blood is able to pass through it from the aorta.

Extra blood causes higher pressure in the blood vessels in the lungs. The larger the volume of blood that goes to the lungs, the higher the pressure. The lungs are able to cope with this extra blood flow and pressure for a while, depending on exactly how high the pressure is. Without medical treatment, however, the blood vessels in the lungs become diseased by the extra pressure.

Further, because blood is pumped at high pressure through the PDA, the lining of the pulmonary artery will become irritated and inflamed. Bacteria in the bloodstream can easily infect this injured area, causing a serious illness known as bacterial endocarditis.

What are the symptoms of a patent ductus arteriosus?

The size of the connection between the aorta and the pulmonary artery will affect the type of symptoms noted, the severity of symptoms, and the age at which they first occur. The larger the opening, the greater the amount of blood that passes through that overloads the lungs.

A child with a small patent ductus arteriosus might not have any symptoms, and your child's physician may have only noted the defect by hearing a heart murmur. Other infants with a larger PDA may exhibit different symptoms. The following are the most common symptoms of PDA. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of a PDA may resemble other medical conditions or heart problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is a patent ductus arteriosus diagnosed?

Your child's physician may have heard a heart murmur during a physical examination, and referred your child to a pediatric cardiologist for a diagnosis. A heart murmur is simply a noise caused by the turbulence of blood flowing through the opening from the left side of the heart to the right.

A pediatric cardiologist specializes in the diagnosis and medical management of congenital heart defects, as well as heart problems that may develop later in childhood. The cardiologist will perform a physical examination, listening to the heart and lungs, and make other observations that help in the diagnosis. The location within the chest where the murmur is heard best, as well as the loudness and quality of the murmur (harsh, blowing, etc.) will give the cardiologist an initial idea of which heart problem your child may have. However, other tests are needed to help with the diagnosis, and may include the following:

Treatment for patent ductus arteriosus:

Specific treatment for PDA will be determined by your child's physician based on:

A small patent ductus arteriosus may close spontaneously as your child grows. A PDA that causes symptoms will require medical management, and possibly even surgical repair. Your child's cardiologist will check periodically to see whether the PDA is closing on its own. If a PDA does not close on its own, it will be repaired to prevent lung problems that will develop from long-time exposure to extra blood flow. Treatment may include:

Postoperative care for your child:

Some children who undergo PDA ligation may need to spend some time in the intensive care unit after surgery. Others may return to a regular hospital room. Your child will be kept as comfortable as possible with medications which relieve pain or anxiety. The staff will also be asking for your input as to how best to soothe and comfort your child.

You will also learn how to care for your child at home before your child is discharged. The staff will give you instructions regarding medications, activity limitations, and follow-up appointments before your child is discharged. Most children will only need to stay in the hospital for a few days after the operation.

Care for your child at home following PDA surgical repair:

Most infants and older children feel fairly comfortable when they go home. Pain medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may be recommended to keep your child comfortable. Your child's physician will discuss pain control before your child is discharged from the hospital.

Often, infants who fed poorly prior to surgery have more energy after the recuperation period, and begin to eat better and gain weight faster.

After surgery, older children usually have a fair tolerance for activity. Your child will usually be allowed to play, while avoiding blows to the chest that might cause injury to the incision or breastbone. Within a few weeks, your child should be fully recovered and able to participate in normal activity.

You will receive additional instructions from your child's physicians and the hospital staff.

Long-term outlook after PDA surgical repair:

In premature infants, the outlook after PDA surgical repair depends on the following:

In children born full-term, most who had a patent ductus arteriosus repair will live healthy lives after recovering from the hospitalization. Activity levels, appetite, and growth should return to normal. Your child's cardiologist may recommend that antibiotics be given to prevent bacterial endocarditis for a specific time period after discharge from the hospital if the coil or occluder device was used.

Consult your child's physician regarding the specific outlook for your child.

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Online Resources of Cardiovascular Disorders


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