The lungs are not used while a fetus is in the womb because the baby gets oxygen directly from the mother's placenta. The ductus arteriosus diverts blood away from the lungs and sends it directly to the body. When a newborn breathes and begins to use the lungs, the ductus is no longer needed and usually closes during the first 2 days after birth.
But when the ductus fails to close, a condition called patent (meaning "open") ductus arteriosus (PDA) results, in which oxygen-rich blood from the aorta is allowed to mix with oxygen-poor blood in the pulmonary artery. As a result, too much blood flows into the lungs, which puts a strain on the heart and increases blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries.
The cause of PDA is not known, but genetics might play a role. PDA is more common in premature babies and affects twice as many girls as boys. It's also common among babies with neonatal respiratory distress syndrome, babies with genetic disorders (such as Down syndrome), and babies whose mothers had rubella (also called German measles) during pregnancy.
In the vast majority of babies with a PDA but an otherwise normal heart, the PDA will shrink and go away on its own in the first few days of life. Some PDAs that don't close then will close on their own by the time the child is a year old.
In premature infants, the PDA is more likely to stay open, particularly if the baby has lung disease. When this happens, doctors might consider treatment to close the PDA.
In infants born with other heart problems that decrease blood flow from the heart to the lungs or decrease the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the body, the PDA may actually help, and the doctor might prescribe medicine to keep the ductus arteriosus open.
Babies with a large PDA might have symptoms such as:
If a PDA is suspected, the doctor will use a stethoscope to listen for a heart murmur, which is often heard in babies with PDAs. Follow-up tests might include:
The three treatment options for PDA are medication, catheter-based procedures, and surgery. A doctor will close a PDA if the size of the opening is large enough that the lungs could become overloaded with blood, a condition that can lead to an enlarged heart.
A doctor might also close a PDA to reduce the risk of developing a heart infection known as endocarditis, which affects the tissue lining the heart and blood vessels. Endocarditis is serious and requires treatment with intravenous (IV) antibiotics.
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.|
|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|
7272 Greenville Ave.
Dallas, TX 75231
|National Institutes of Health (NIH) NIH is an Agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and offers health information and scientific resources.|
|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.|
|Ventricular Septal Defect Ventricular septal defect, or VSD, is a heart condition that a few teens can have. Find out what it is, how it happens, and what doctors do to correct it.|
|Ventricular Septal Defect Ventricular septal defect (VSD) - also known as a "hole in the heart" - is a congenital heart defect. Fortunately, most VSDs are diagnosed and treated successfully.|
|Heart and Circulatory System The heart and circulatory system (also called the cardiovascular system) make up the network that delivers blood to the body's tissues.|
|If Your Child Has a Heart Defect Congenital heart defects are relatively common, affecting almost 1 in every 100 newborns in the United States.|
|Heart Murmurs and Your Child A heart murmur diagnosis is extremely common. Most murmurs are not a cause for concern and do not affect a child's health.|
|Coarctation of the Aorta Coarctation of the aorta is a treatable congenital defect in which a child's aorta is narrowed at some point.|
|Heart Murmurs Everyone's heart makes sounds, but some people have hearts that make more noise than others. Usually, however, these heart murmurs don't mean anything is wrong. Find out more about these mysterious murmurs.|
|Arrhythmias Arrhythmias are abnormal heartbeats usually caused by an electrical "short circuit" in the heart. Many are minor and not a significant health threat, but others can indicate a more serious problem.|
|Words to Know (Heart Glossary) Your heart beats and sends blood all around your body. Find out more about the heart, from A to Z, in this glossary.|
|I Had Heart Surgery: Noah's Story Noah had two heart surgeries when he was a baby. Now he's 9 and going strong! Read about him in this article for kids.|
|Your Heart & Circulatory System Your heart is a hard-working muscle. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|Arrhythmias Arrhythmias are abnormal heart rhythms usually caused by an electrical "short circuit" in the heart. Many don't require treatment; however, some need to be evaluated and treated by a doctor.|
|Coarctation of the Aorta When someone has coarctation of the aorta, that person's aorta (the major blood vessel that carries blood away from the heart to the body) is narrowed at some point.|
|Atrial Septal Defect Atrial septal defect (ASD) - also known as a "hole in the heart" - is a type of congenital heart disease. Fortunately, most ASDs are diagnosed and treated successfully.|
|Atrial Septal Defect Atrial septal defect, or ASD, is a heart condition that teens can have. In most cases, ASDs are diagnosed and treated successfully with few or no complications.|
|Atrial Septal Defect An atrial septal defect is an opening in the wall between two parts of the heart that lets oxygen-rich blood from one side mix with oxygen-poor blood on the other side. Read more about ASDs in this article for kids.|
|Heart and Circulatory System The heart and circulatory system are our body's lifeline, delivering blood to the body's tissues. Brush up on your ticker with this body basics article.|
|Congenital Heart Defects Congenital heart defects involve abnormal or incomplete development of the heart. Learn about the different types of congenital heart defects.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.