Chromosomal and Genetic Conditions

Tracheoesophageal Fistula (TEF) and Esophageal Atresia (EA)

What is TEF/EA?


(Left illustration) Normal anatomy (Right illustration) Esophageal atresia with distal tracheoesophageal fistula

Tracheoesophageal fistula (TEF) (TRAY-KEY-o-i-SOF-uh-JEAL FIS-chu-luh) is a condition in which an abnormal channel, called a fistula, connects the windpipe (trachea) to the tube that leads from the mouth to the stomach (esophagus). Food and saliva can get into the trachea and lungs through this channel. This can make a child cough or choke and lead to lung infections or pneumonia.

Esophageal atresia (EA) (i-SOF-uh-JEAL uh-TREE-zhuh) is a condition where the esophagus does not form completely. This usually means the tube leading down from the mouth and the tube leading up from the stomach do not meet. Instead, each section of tube has a closed end. A baby with EA cannot eat or drink by mouth because there is no way for food and liquid to travel from the mouth to the stomach.

People often use the terms TEF and EA interchangeably. But each name refers to a specific problem. TEF and EA usually occur together, but sometimes a child has just one and not the other.

TEF/EA can take several forms when they occur together. In the most common form, the upper part of the esophagus has a closed end and the lower part of the esophagus connects to the trachea. About 85% of children with TEF/EA have this form.

Doctors are not yet sure what causes TEF/EA. It is not thought to be inherited or passed from parent to child.

TEF/EA in Children

TEF and EA are present when a child is born (congenital). About 1 in 4,000 children are born each year with TEF, EA or both. About one-third of these children are born early.

TEF/EA at Seattle Children’s

Children with TEF/EA need special care from a variety of providers, including surgeons, pediatric anesthesiologists, neonatologists and nutritionists. At Seattle Children’s, you will be connected with the region’s most experienced team of doctors, who work together to meet your baby’s needs. We see many children with this condition because doctors from several states send patients to Seattle Children’s for TEF/EA treatment.

Contact Us

To learn more about treatment for TEF/EA at Seattle Children’s, call our General and Thoracic Surgery Department at 206-987-2794 x4.