Congenital Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA)

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While still in the mother's womb, a baby doesn't need his or her lungs to supply oxygen because the baby receives oxygen via the mother's lungs and placenta. Since a baby's lungs do not provide oxygen, there is no need for energy to be expended pumping blood to the lungs. The ductus arteriosus is a blood vessel that is present in all babies while still in the womb that allows blood to bypass the pathway to the lungs; it allows blood to flow from the pulmonary artery to the aorta.

When the baby is born and the umbilical cord is cut, the lungs are now needed to supply oxygen. The lungs expand, their blood vessels relax to accept more flow and the ductus arteriosus usually closes within the first hours of life. On occasion, however, the ductus arteriosus does not close on its own. This is referred to as a patent ("open") ductus arteriosus. While this condition is much more often seen in premature babies, it may also appear in term infants.

The symptoms of a patent ductus arteriosus depend on the size of the ductus and how much blood flow it carries. After birth, the pressures and resistance are much tighter in the aorta than the pulmonary artery, so if a ductus arteriosus is present, blood will flow from the aorta into the pulmonary artery. This extra blood flow into the lungs can overload the lungs and put an additional burden on the heart to pump this extra blood.

This situation may not be well tolerated in a premature baby who already has problems related to immaturity of the lungs themselves. These babies may need more support from the ventilator and have symptoms of congestive heart failure.

A newborn with a patent ductus arteriosus may have fast breathing, an increase in the work of breathing, more frequent respiratory infections, tiring more easily, or poor growth.

However, if the patent ductus arteriosus is not large, it may cause no symptoms and may be detected only upon further evaluation of a heart murmur.

Even in the absence of symptoms, the turbulent flow of blood through the patent ductus arteriosus puts a person at a higher risk for a serious infection, known as endocarditis.

Because of turbulent blood flow from the high pressure aorta to the low pressure pulmonary artery, a patent ductus arteriosus causes a characteristic heart murmur that is heard on physical exam.

The presence of the characteristic murmur along with symptoms of heart failure in a premature infant most frequently leads to the diagnosis of patent ductus arteriosus. The chest X-ray will show an enlarged heart and evidence of an excessive amount of blood flow to the lungs. An echocardiogram is performed to confirm the diagnosis. This will demonstrate the size of the ductus arteriosus and will demonstrate if the heart chambers have become enlarged due to the extra blood flow.

In older children, though, the chest X-ray is typically normal. An echocardiogram will demonstrate the flow of blood through the patent ductus arteriosus and will typically be performed to confirm the diagnosis.

In a newborn, the patent ductus arteriosus still has the potential to close on its own without intervention. Thus, in newborns, additional time may be allowed for the patent ductus arteriosus to close on its own if the heart failure can be easily managed. If symptoms are severe, such as in a premature infant, or if it is felt that it is unlikely to close on its own, however, medical or surgical closure is pursued.

If a patent ductus arteriosus is still present beyond the newborn period, it will generally never close on its own. Closure is recommended in such cases to prevent the future risk of endocarditis.

In newborns, a medication such as indomethacin or ibuprofen can be given. These medications are given in the stomach and can constrict the muscle in the wall of the patent ductus arteriosus and promote closure. These drugs do have side effects, however, such as kidney injury or bleeding, so not all babies can receive them. Because of the potential side effects, the baby must have lab values checked before medications can be given. If the lab values are not normal or if the medications do not work, surgery can be performed and the patent ductus arteriosus tied off (ligated).

Medications are generally only successful in newborns. In older infants and children, options for closure include surgery or closure in the cardiac catheterization laboratory with a device or coil.

During the cardiac catheterization procedure, the patient is either sedated or placed under general anesthesia (depending on age) and catheters are placed into blood vessels in the groin. The catheters are then positioned in the aorta close to the ductus arteriosus, and a picture (called an angiogram) is taken to define the shape and size of the of the ductus arteriosus. Various devices are now available to close the ductus. If the ductus is small, a coil may be placed within the vessel, but if larger, different types of plug-shaped devices can be used to occlude the vessel.

The ductus arteriosus may also be closed with surgery. A small incision is made between the ribs on the left side, and the ductus arteriosus is tied (ligated) and cut. Surgical closure of the patent ductus arteriosus can be performed at any age, and is specifically recommended in some situations such as a very large patent ductus arteriosus or other unusual anatomy.

The risk of complications with any of these treatments is low, determined mostly by how ill the child is prior to treatment.

Yes. Some babies have heart defects that require the patent ductus arteriosus to remain open for them to survive.

In some heart defects, such as pulmonary atresia (an underdeveloped or blocked pulmonary valve), the patent ductus arteriosus supplies the only adequate source of blood flow to the lungs so that oxygen can be delivered to the blood. In these patients, the ductus arteriosus supplies blood to the lungs from the aorta.

In other anomalies, such as underdeveloped or severely narrowed aorta (like that seen in hypoplastic left heart syndrome), the patent ductus arteriosus is crucial to allow adequate blood flow to the body. The ductus arteriosus supplies blood to the body from the pulmonary artery.

Medication is given intravenously (IV) and requires the baby to be closely monitored in the intensive care unit. Keeping the patent ductus arteriosus open using this medication allows stabilization of the newborn until more definitive treatment, usually surgical, can be carried out.

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Last Updated 11/2012