What is patent ductus arteriosus?

Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) is an extra blood vessel found in babies before birth and just after birth. This extra vessel allows oxygen-rich blood to skip the lungs. When the baby is born, they get oxygen by breathing through their lungs. The extra blood vessel should shrink and close. If it remains open, the baby's blood may not get oxygen properly.

Causes of patent ductus arteriosus

PDA is what's called a congenital defect. This means the baby's heart didn't form correctly before the baby was born. Doctors don't know why this congenital defect happens. However, they think genetics may play a role in whether a baby gets PDA.

Some factors that may contribute to PDA developing include:

  • Premature birth
  • Lung disease in the baby
  • Especially large ductus arteriosus

Risk factors for patent ductus arteriosus

PDA is more common in premature babies. Girls are almost twice as likely to develop it than boys. Babies that have respiratory diseases and genetic disorders like Down syndrome are also more likely to have it. Mothers with rubella during pregnancy are also more likely to have babies with PDA.

Symptoms of patent ductus arteriosus

A small opening in the ductus arteriosus may show no signs. A doctor might not diagnose it until someone is an adult. Larger openings often show themselves not long after birth. This may happen within the first few weeks after the baby is born. If your child gets tired easily or has a rapid heart rate, tell their doctor.

Other symptoms of PDA include:

  • Fast breath or breathlessness
  • Sweating while crying or eating
  • Poor eating and, as a result, slow growth

Diagnosis of patent ductus arteriosus

Even when the opening is small, a doctor can diagnose the condition by listening to the baby's heart with a stethoscope. They hear a very specific kind of murmur when the baby's heart beats. This can mean the baby's heart and lungs are working harder than they need to. The doctor may order a chest X-ray, blood tests and other tests to measure the heart's activity and provide a diagnosis.

Treatments for patent ductus arteriosus

Small PDAs tend to close on their own during a baby's first few months. Larger openings may need a surgery to close the ductus. A catheter, or a long, thin tube, is inserted into the baby's leg to reach their heart. The doctor inserts a small coil into the tube. This tube plugs the small hole in the ductus. The doctor might also do this surgery through a cut on the left side of the chest. They go in between the baby's ribs and close the hole with a thread or a permanent metal clip.

Sometimes, premature newborn babies can take medicine to help the ductus close. This medicine usually doesn't work after the baby is a few weeks old. Eating a healthy diet and receiving the recommended vaccines can also help your child develop as healthy as possible.

There is no way to completely prevent PDA. Pregnant women may benefit from early and frequent prenatal care, eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. It's also important to not drink alcohol, smoke or take illicit drugs. Avoid infections and keep diabetes under control to have a healthy pregnancy.

Recovery from patent ductus arteriosus

The doctor may be able to close your baby's PDA. Then, it may not be necessary to restrict activities once the healing is complete. If your baby has a large or moderate PDA, you may need to work with a cardiologist. They can help determine if medicines or additional procedures can help. Continue to talk with your doctor if any symptoms or problems occur. There's a small chance a residual hole might remain. Overall, the success rate for surgery is very high.

Find a physician nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you