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How Is Tetralogy of Fallot Treated?

Tetralogy of Fallot is repaired with open-heart surgery, either soon after birth or later in infancy. The goal of surgery is to repair the four defects of tetralogy of Fallot so the heart can work as normally as possible. Repairing the defects can greatly improve a child's health and quality of life.

The pediatric cardiologist and cardiac surgeon will decide the best time to do the surgery. They will base their decision on your baby's health and weight and the severity of the defects and symptoms.

Some teenagers or adults who had tetralogy of Fallot repaired in childhood need additional surgery to correct heart problems that develop over time. For more information, go to "Living With Tetralogy of Fallot."

Types of Surgery

Complete Intracardiac Repair

Surgery to repair tetralogy of Fallot improves blood flow to the lungs. Surgery also ensures that oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor blood flow to the right places.

The surgeon will:

  • Widen the narrowed pulmonary blood vessels. The pulmonary valve is widened or replaced. Also, the passage from the right ventricle to the pulmonary artery is enlarged. These procedures improve blood flow to the lungs. This allows the blood to get enough oxygen to meet the body's needs.
  • Repair the ventricular septal defect (VSD). A patch is used to cover the hole in the septum. This patch stops oxygen-rich and oxygen-poor blood from mixing between the ventricles.

Fixing these two defects resolves problems caused by the other two defects. When the right ventricle no longer has to work so hard to pump blood to the lungs, it will return to a normal thickness. Fixing the VSD means that only oxygen-rich blood will flow out of the left ventricle into the aorta.

The incision (cut) that the surgeon makes to reach the heart usually heals in about 6 weeks. The surgeon or a hospital staff member will explain when it's okay to give your baby a bath, pick him or her up under the arms, and take your baby for regular shots (immunizations).

Temporary or Palliative Surgery

It was common in the past to do temporary surgery during infancy for tetralogy of Fallot. This surgery improved blood flow to the lungs. A complete repair of the four defects was done later in childhood.

Now, tetralogy of Fallot usually is fully repaired in infancy. However, some babies are too weak or too small to have the full repair. They must have temporary surgery first. This surgery improves oxygen levels in the blood. The surgery also gives the baby time to grow and get strong enough for the full repair.

For temporary surgery, the surgeon places a tube between a large artery branching off the aorta and the pulmonary artery. The tube is called a shunt. One end of the shunt is sewn to the artery branching off the aorta. The other end is sewn to the pulmonary artery.

The shunt creates an additional pathway for blood to travel to the lungs to get oxygen. The surgeon removes the shunt when the baby's heart defects are fixed during the full repair.

After temporary surgery, your baby may need medicines to keep the shunt open while waiting for the full repair. These medicines are stopped after the surgeon removes the shunt.

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Tetralogy of Fallot Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Tetralogy of Fallot, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.

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Visit Children and Clinical Studies to hear experts, parents, and children talk about their experiences with clinical research.

 
July 01, 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.

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