Signs and Symptoms of Ebstein's Anomaly
Ebstein anomaly can be very mild to very severe. Many patients with milder forms of Ebstein's anomaly do not have symptoms. When symptoms are not present until the patient ages a diagnosis is made when a heart murmur is heard.
Some babies and children have blue color to their skin (cyanosis). This happens because the flow of blood from the right atrium to the left atrium. Children may complain that their heart races, skips a beat, or just “beats funny.” They may tire more easily than other children or become short of breath. In teens and young adults, the sensation of “heart skipping” (palpitations) or fast heart rate, shortness of breath, and chest pain may be the first symptoms. Growth and development are normal in patients with Ebstein's anomaly.
Severely affected babies are often critically ill at birth. They may have low oxygen saturations (cyanosis) and heart failure needing immediate intensive care.
Diagnosis of Ebstein's Anomaly
A chest X-ray will be taken to look at the size of the heart, which may be larger than normal. Often, the diagnosis of Ebstein's anomaly is suspected because of the large heart on chest X-ray.
An echocardiogram is used to diagnose Ebstein's anomaly. It also helps identify any additional heart defects. This test allows the pediatric cardiologist (heart doctor) to determine the degree of valve displacement, the severity of valve leakage (insufficiency) or valve narrowing (stenosis). it also helps see the size of the heart chambers, and if an open foramen ovale is present.
An electrocardiogram (ECG) records the heart's rhythm. If your child has complained about a racing heart and the answer is not found in this initial test, they may go home with a recorder. Your child may also have an exercise stress test done to better look at their heart function during activity. Some patients with abnormal heart rhythms may need more testing to identify and treat their heart rhythm problems.
Invasive diagnostic testing is not as commonly performed today. Certain patients with Ebstein's anomaly may need cardiac catheterization to fully look at their cardiac anatomy and function.
Treatment of Ebstein's Anomaly
Your child’s pediatric cardiologist will discuss the treatment options appropriate for your child. Mild defects often do need specific treatment. Medical treatment is reserved for those children with congestive heart failure or abnormal heart rhythms.
Surgery may be needed. Surgical repair or replacement of the tricuspid valve and closure of the foramen ovale or atrial septal defect may be recommended. Surgery might be indicated in older children with moderate to severe congestive heart failure, significant heart enlargement, cyanosis, or abnormal clot formation.
Procedures in the cardiac cath lab may be used to help correct problems with fast heart rates.
Medical therapy for heart failure or arrhythmias is used with planned surgical intervention. In very severe forms of Ebstein's anomaly, surgery may be needed in the newborn period. The treatment is more like that for children with single ventricle cardiac anomalies.
Children who have surgery do well. Complications are usually early. Surgical outcomes were reported in a study of 189 patients with Ebstein's anomaly who had surgical repair or replacement of the tricuspid valve. Over half of these patients had valve repair. Thirty-six percent had valve replacement. Twelve patients (6 percent) died within the first month after surgery. Ten patients (5 percent) died after this first month. But more than 80 percent of children survived to 20 years of age. Heart failure status significantly improved in 93 percent of the 177 surviving patients.
Adult and Adolescent Management
Ebstein's anomaly can be diagnosed at any age. People with the mildest form of the condition may not have any problems throughout their lives. Many people with Ebstein's anomaly develop heart rhythm problems. These are more common as they age. Over time, limitation of physical activity are also common.
All Ebstein patients need lifelong follow-up by congenital heart experts. Many Ebstein patients will need treatment for rhythm problems. Such rhythm problems return or new rhythm problems may occur. If surgery is needed, this should be done by congenital heart surgeons.
Learn more about the Adolescent and Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program.