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What Is Patent Ductus Arteriosus?

Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) is a heart problem that affects some babies soon after birth. In PDA, abnormal blood flow occurs between two of the major arteries connected to the heart. These arteries are the aorta and the pulmonary (PULL-mun-ary) artery.

Before birth, these arteries are connected by a blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus. This blood vessel is a vital part of fetal blood circulation.

Within minutes or up to a few days after birth, the ductus arteriosus closes. This change is normal in newborns.

In some babies, however, the ductus arteriosus remains open (patent). The opening allows oxygen-rich blood from the aorta to mix with oxygen-poor blood from the pulmonary artery. This can strain the heart and increase blood pressure in the lung arteries.

Normal Heart and Heart With Patent Ductus Arteriosus

Figure A shows a cross-section of a normal heart. The arrows show the direction of blood flow through the heart. Figure B shows a heart with patent ductus arteriosus. The defect connects the aorta and the pulmonary artery. This allows oxygen-rich blood from the aorta to mix with oxygen-poor blood in the pulmonary artery.

Figure A shows a cross-section of a normal heart. The arrows show the direction of blood flow through the heart. Figure B shows a heart with patent ductus arteriosus. The defect connects the aorta and the pulmonary artery. This allows oxygen-rich blood from the aorta to mix with oxygen-poor blood in the pulmonary artery.

Go to the "How the Heart Works" section of this article for more details about how a normal heart works compared with a heart that has PDA.

Overview

PDA is a type of congenital (kon-JEN-ih-tal) heart defect. A congenital heart defect is any type of heart problem that's present at birth.

If your baby has a PDA but an otherwise normal heart, the PDA may shrink and go away. However, some children need treatment to close their PDAs.

Some children who have PDAs are given medicine to keep the ductus arteriosus open. For example, this may be done if a child is born with another heart defect that decreases blood flow to the lungs or the rest of the body.

Keeping the PDA open helps maintain blood flow and oxygen levels until doctors can do surgery to correct the other heart defect.

Outlook

PDA is a fairly common congenital heart defect in the United States. Although the condition can affect full-term infants, it's more common in premature infants.

On average, PDA occurs in about 8 out of every 1,000 premature babies, compared with 2 out of every 1,000 full-term babies. Premature babies also are more vulnerable to the effects of PDA.

PDA is twice as common in girls as it is in boys.

Doctors treat the condition with medicines, catheter-based procedures, and surgery. Most children who have PDAs live healthy, normal lives after treatment.

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September 26, 2011 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.