Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA)

What is Patent Ductus Arteriosus?

While in the womb, two major arteries that connect to the heart are joined by one blood vessel known as the ductus arteriosus. It is vital for fetal blood circulation, but it should close within days after birth.

When it fails to close, blood from the pulmonary artery mixes with blood from the aorta and flows the wrong way. The defect is known as Patent ductus arteriosus or PDA. Blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs increases and causes pulmonary hypertension. The heart must work harder and can become damaged. The possible causes of PDA are unclear, but it is thought to be caused by environmental influences or a hereditary defect.

What are the Symptoms of Patent Ductus Arteriosus?

Small PDAs can go unnoticed for decades, but large PDAs can become life-threatening very quickly. Doctors often hear a heart murmur during a routine pediatric exam. The symptoms depend on the severity of the defect and may include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Sweating while eating, crying or playing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Easily fatigued
  • Fast heartbeat

PDA Causes

Doctors are still studying the technical cause of the condition and, aside from the high-risk of contracting PDA amongst premature children and that it is more commonly found in girls, they are not sure of its origins. In order to diagnose PDA doctors typically listen to the rhythms of a child’s heart. PDA can commonly cause a heart murmur (a strange or doubled heartbeat) which doctors will often find using a stethoscope. In some cases, a chest X-ray might be needed as well to more closely examine the baby’s lungs and heart. However, babies born prematurely might have different symptoms from children carried full-term. In this case, more PDA tests may need to be conducted.

Some other tests used to detect PDA include:

  • Echocardiogram

An echocardiogram utilizes sound waves to capture an image of the child’s heart. This painless imaging technique allows doctors to see the shape and size of the heart. Additionally, doctors can see if there are any issues or abnormalities in blood flow to and from the heart. Aside from a stethoscope, an echocardiogram is the most commonly used test to diagnose PDA.

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)

The EKG records the heart’s electrical activity detecting irregular or odd heart rhythms, while also identifying the presence of an enlarged heart.

How is Patent Ductus Arteriosus Treated?

In some cases the PDA will shrivel and close by itself. However, life-threatening complications can occur if the PDA is large and goes uncorrected. The heart can weaken, enlarge and eventually fail. Arrhythmias and infection can also occur. Treatment depends on the severity of the PDA and may include:

  • Heart monitoring to watch for PDA closure
  • NSAIDs or indomethacin to prompt PDA closure in preemies
  • Open-heart surgery to repair the open duct
  • Catheter procedure to close the PDA
  • Antibiotics to prevent heart infection after catheter procedure

Prognosis is good for otherwise healthy kids when a patent ductus arteriosus is treated.

PDA Prevention

In order to reduce the chances of a baby developing PDA, pregnant women should:

  • Reduce infections by updating vaccinations before the pregnancy as some infections can potentially harm a developing baby.
  • Develop healthy eating habits including a steady vitamin supplement regimen that contains folic acid.
  • After consulting your doctor, developing a regular work out plan.
  • Begin prenatal care as early as possible. This includes reducing stress, quitting smoking, and discussing any potentially harmful medications with your doctor.
  • Avoid alcohol, hot tubs, and saunas.
  • If you have diabetes, make sure to keep it managed by working with your doctor before and during your pregnancy.
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Last Reviewed:
October 07, 2016
Last Updated:
December 20, 2017