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How Is Patent Ductus Arteriosus Diagnosed?

In full-term infants, patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) usually is first suspected if a heart murmur is heard during a routine checkup.

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

If a PDA is large, an infant also may have 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 and symptoms as full-term babies, such as heart murmurs. Doctors may suspect PDA in premature babies who have 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. The sound waves (called ultrasound) bounce off the structures of the heart. A computer converts the sound waves into pictures on a screen.

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 an important test for both diagnosing a heart defect and following the problem over time.

Echo can show the size of a PDA and how the heart is responding to the defect. When medical treatments are used to try to close a PDA, echo can show 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 may suggest the presence of a PDA.

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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.