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How Is Patent Ductus Arteriosus Diagnosed?

In full-term infants, patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) usually is first suspected when the baby's doctor hears a heart murmur during a regular checkup.

A heart murmur is an extra or unusual sound heard during the heartbeat. Heart murmurs also have other causes besides PDA, and most murmurs are harmless.

If a PDA is large, the infant also may develop symptoms of volume overload and increased blood flow to the lungs. If a PDA is small, it may not be diagnosed until later in childhood.

If your child's doctor thinks your child has PDA, he or she may refer you to a pediatric cardiologist. This is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating heart problems in children.

Premature babies who have PDA may not have the same signs as full-term babies, such as heart murmurs. Doctors may suspect PDA in premature babies who develop breathing problems soon after birth. Tests can help confirm a diagnosis.

Diagnostic Tests

Echocardiography

Echocardiography (echo) is a painless test that uses sound waves to create a moving picture of your baby's heart. During echo, the sound waves bounce off your child’s heart. A computer converts the sound waves into pictures of the heart’s structures.

The test allows the doctor to clearly see any problems with the way the heart is formed or the way it's working. Echo is the most important test available to your baby's cardiologist to both diagnose a heart problem and follow the problem over time.

In babies who have PDA, echo shows how big the PDA is and how well the heart is responding to it. When medical treatments are used to try to close a PDA, echo is used to see how well the treatments are working.

EKG (Electrocardiogram)

An EKG is a simple, painless test that records the heart's electrical activity. For babies who have PDA, an EKG can show whether the heart is enlarged. The test also can show other subtle changes that can suggest the presence of a PDA.

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September 26, 2011