Each year, 4 out of every 10,000 babies born in the United States have the condition, which was named after the French doctor who first described it in the late 1800s, Étienne Fallot. About 10% of all babies born with a heart problem have tetralogy of Fallot (TOF).
The four related problems that together make up tetralogy of Fallot are:
As a result of these defects, too little blood goes to the lungs. The low-oxygen blood then circulates to the rest of the body and too little oxygen reaches the body tissues.
If tetralogy of Fallot goes untreated, a child may have:
A child whose TOF is not repaired might need to limit participation in competitive sports and other physical activities. Many infants who have surgery to correct the defect do very well, participate in normal kid activities, and live to adulthood.
Scientists have not yet identified a specific cause for tetralogy of Fallot in all cases, but they believe genetics play a role. Someone born with TOF is more likely to have a child or sibling with it.
Mothers who get rubella (German measles) or other viral illnesses during their pregnancies are at a higher risk of giving birth to babies with TOF. Other risk factors and conditions include poor nutrition, alcohol abuse, uncontrolled diabetes, and the mother's age (over 40).
Certain environmental factors, such as air pollution, also may increase a mother's chances of having a baby with TOF.
One of the most common signs of tetralogy of Fallot is cyanosis (a blue or purple tint to the baby's skin, lips, and fingernails). Healthy babies can sometimes also have a bluish skin tone around the mouth or around the eyes from prominent veins under the skin. This is perfectly normal. If a baby's lips and tongue look pink, you generally don't have to be concerned because babies who have low oxygen levels in the blood usually have blue lips and tongues in addition to bluish skin.
A child with TOF might have sudden episodes of deep cyanosis, called "Tet spells," during crying or feeding. Older children who have Tet spells will often instinctively squat down, which helps to stop the spell.
Other signs include:
Your doctor may use several tests to find out if your child has tetralogy of Fallot, including:
Tetralogy of Fallot is repaired through open-heart surgery soon after birth or later in infancy, depending on the baby's health and weight and severity of defects and symptoms.
The two surgical options are:
Most babies born with tetralogy of Fallot do very well and survive to adulthood, but require regular follow-up with a heart specialist.
Reviewed by: Gina Baffa, MD, and Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: April 2015
|National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) The NHLBI provides the public with educational resources relating to the treatment of heart, blood vessel, lung, and blood diseases as well as sleep disorders.|
|Congenital Heart Information Network The Congenital Heart Information Network's goal is to provide information and resources to families of children with congenital and acquired heart disease, adults with congenital heart defects, and the professionals who work with them.|
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|American Heart Association This group is dedicated to providing education and information on fighting heart disease and stroke. Contact the American Heart Association at: American Heart Association|
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|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
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