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Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Jan 25, 2023.

Overview

Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) is a persistent opening between the two major blood vessels leading from the heart. The heart problem is present from birth. That means it is a congenital heart defect.

An opening called the ductus arteriosus is part of a baby's blood flow system in the womb. It usually closes shortly after birth. If it remains open, it's called a patent ductus arteriosus.

A small patent ductus arteriosus often doesn't cause problems and might never need treatment. However, a large, untreated patent ductus arteriosus can let oxygen-poor blood move the wrong way. This can weaken the heart muscle, causing heart failure and other complications.

Treatment options for a patent ductus arteriosus include regular health checkups, medicines, and a procedure or surgery to close the opening.

Patent ductus arteriosus

Patent ductus arteriosus is a persistent opening between the two main blood vessels leaving the heart. Those vessels are the aorta and the pulmonary artery. The condition is present at birth.

Symptoms

Patent ductus arteriosus symptoms (PDA) depend on the size of the opening and the person's age. A small PDA might not cause symptoms. Some people don't notice symptoms until adulthood. A large PDA can cause symptoms of heart failure soon after birth.

A large PDA found during infancy or childhood might cause:

When to see a doctor

Contact the doctor if your baby or older child:

Causes

The exact causes of congenital heart defects are unclear. During the first six weeks of pregnancy, a baby's heart starts to form and beat. The major blood vessels to and from the heart grow. It's during this time that certain heart defects may begin to develop.

Before birth, a temporary opening called the ductus arteriosus is between the two main blood vessels leaving a baby's heart. Those vessels are the aorta and the pulmonary artery. The opening is necessary for a baby's blood flow before birth. It moves blood away from a baby's lungs while they develop. The baby gets oxygen from the mother's blood.

After birth, the ductus arteriosus is no longer needed. It usually closes within 2 to 3 days. But in some infants, the opening doesn't close. When it stays open, it's called a patent ductus arteriosus.

The persistent opening causes too much blood to flow to the baby's lungs and heart. Untreated, the blood pressure in the baby's lungs might increase. The baby's heart might grow larger and get weak.

Risk factors

Risk factors for patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) include:

Complications

A small patent ductus arteriosus might not cause complications. Larger, untreated defects could cause:

Causes

Patent ductus arteriosus and pregnancy

It may be possible to have a successful pregnancy with a small patent ductus arteriosus. However, having a large PDA or complications such as heart failure, irregular heartbeats or lung damage increases the risk of serious complications during pregnancy.

Before becoming pregnant, talk to your health care provider about possible pregnancy risks and complications. Some heart medicines can cause serious problems for a developing baby. Your health care provider may stop or change your medicines before you become pregnant.

Together you can discuss and plan for any special care needed during pregnancy. If you are at high risk of having a baby with a heart problem present at birth, genetic testing and screening may be done during pregnancy.

Prevention

There is no known prevention for patent ductus arteriosus. However, it's important to do everything possible to have a healthy pregnancy. Here are some of the basics:

Diagnosis

The health care provider does a physical exam and asks questions about your medical history. The care provider may hear a heart sound called a murmur while listening to the heart with a stethoscope.

Tests that may be done to diagnose patent ductus arteriosus include:

Treatment

Treatments for a patent ductus arteriosus depend on the age of the person being treated. Some people with small PDAs that aren't causing problems only need regular health checkups to watch for complications. If a premature baby has a PDA, the health care provider does regular checkups to make sure it closes.

Medications

Medicines called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be given to premature babies to treat a PDA. These medicines block certain body chemicals that keep a PDA open. However, these medicines won't close a PDA in full-term babies, children or adults.

In the past, health care providers told people born with a PDA to take antibiotics before dental work and certain surgical procedures to prevent certain heart infections. This is no longer recommended for most people with a patent ductus arteriosus. Ask your health care provider if preventive antibiotics are necessary. They might be recommended after certain heart procedures.

Surgery or other procedures

Advanced treatments to close a patent ductus arteriosus include:

Some people born with a PDA need regular health checkups for life, even after treatment to close the opening. During these checkups, the health care provider may run tests to check for complications. Talk to your health care provider about your care plan. Ideally, it's best to seek care from a provider trained in treating adults with heart problems before birth. This type of provider is called a congenital cardiologist.

Lifestyle and home remedies

Anyone born with a patent ductus arteriosus needs to take steps to keep the heart healthy and prevent complications. These tips can help:

Preparing for an appointment

A large patent ductus arteriosus or one that's causing serious health problems may be diagnosed immediately at birth. But some smaller ones might not be noticed until later in life. If you have a PDA, you may be referred to a health care provider trained in heart problems present at birth. This type of provider is called a congenital cardiologist. A provider with training in kids' heart conditions is called a pediatric cardiologist.

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.

What you can do

For patent ductus arteriosus, questions to ask include:

Don't hesitate to ask other questions, as well.

What to expect from your doctor

The doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:

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