Heart and Blood Conditions

Patent Ductus Arteriosus

What is patent ductus arteriosus?

Patent ductus arteriosus (pronounced PAY-tent DUCK-tus are-teer-e-OH-sus) occurs when a small blood vessel near the heart fails to close after a baby is born. (See a picture.) This is also called persistent ductus arteriosus.

The ductus arteriosus is a temporary blood vessel that babies have before they are born. The ductus arteriosus connects the pulmonary artery to the aorta. It allows blood to bypass the lungs when the fetus is growing in the womb.

During the fetus’s development in the womb, the majority of blood flow leaves the heart through the ductus arteriosus. This allows the lungs to receive only a small amount of blood flow while the fetus is in the mother’s womb. This works fine because babies don’t breathe on their own until after they’re born. Fetuses don’t need large quantities of blood going to their lungs to get oxygen. Before birth, the fetus gets oxygen through the placenta.

Normally, when a newborn baby takes its first breath, they have been separated from the mother’s blood supply and all the chemicals keeping the ductus arteriosus open (patent) have now been taken away. The ductus typically closes within a few days.

If the ductus arteriosus remains open, pressure from the blood vessels will provide extra blood flow to the baby’s lungs. This additional blood flow then returns to the heart and can cause the heart’s left side to get too large. If not treated, this could lead to heart failure.

Patent Ductus Arteriosus at Seattle Children’s

Our heart team has treated many children with patent ductus arteriosus. We have years of experience with the treatment these patients may need, including medicine, cardiac catheterization or surgery. We have a team of doctors that includes pediatric cardiac anesthesiologists, newborn (neonatal) intensive care physicians, cardiac intensivists, cardiac interventionists and cardiac surgeons.

When an infant, child or young adult arrives at Seattle Children’s, a team of people will take care of them. Along with your child’s heart doctor (cardiologist), you are connected with newborn baby intensive care physicians (neonatologists), lung doctors (pulmonologists), nurses, child life specialists, social workers and others, if their expertise is needed. We work together to meet all of your child’s health needs and help your family through this experience.

Seattle Children’s has been treating children since 1907. Our team members are trained in their fields and in meeting the unique needs of children. For example, the doctors who give your child anesthesia are board certified in pediatric anesthesiology. This means they have extra years of training in how to take care of kids. Our child life specialists know how to help children understand their illnesses and treatments in ways that make sense for their age.

The Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program shared by Children’s and the University of Washington can help with care throughout your child’s life.

Patent Ductus Arteriosus in Children

A ductus that doesn't close is common in premature babies but rare in full-term babies.

Patent ductus arteriosus is diagnosed in about 3,000 babies each year in the United States. Girls are 2 to 3 times as likely as boys to have it.

Some babies with patent ductus arteriosus have other heart defects, but not all do.

This condition is more common in babies with Down syndrome and in babies whose mother had German measles (rubella) while pregnant.

Doctors may give medicine (prostaglandin) to babies who have a normal ductus that’s closing but have other kinds of heart defects (like hypoplastic left heart syndrome, interrupted aortic arch or pulmonary atresia) to keep the ductus open. Keeping the ductus open helps blood flow through the baby’s heart and into the body until their other heart defects can be treated.

Contact Us

Contact the Heart Center at 206-987-2015 for a cardiac referral, a second opinion or more information.