Heart and Blood Conditions

Vascular Rings

What are vascular rings?

Vascular rings are a birth defect in which abnormally positioned arteries surround the trachea (the breathing tube that carries air to and from the lungs) and the esophagus (the tube that carries food to the stomach).

Vascular rings can press on the trachea and esophagus. This can cause breathing and feeding problems. Children with this condition may have symptoms in infancy or early childhood. Some children require treatment, but some do not.

Vascular Rings in Children

Before birth, it’s normal for babies to have some arches of tissue near their trachea and esophagus. As the baby develops, these arches should either turn into normal arteries or disappear. This results in a single aortic arch that bends toward the left. Rarely, some of these arches do not disappear and turn into vascular rings.

Sometimes, the abnormal structures wrap all the way around the trachea and esophagus. Sometimes, they wrap partway around. This can still cause pressure and symptoms.

There are several types of rings, named for where and how they formed. These are the most common types:

  • Double aortic arch. In this type, the aorta divides into two arches, with one going around the left side of the trachea and esophagus and one going around the right side.
  • Right aortic arch with aberrant left subclavian artery and left ligamentum arteriosum. In this type, the aorta bends toward the right instead of the left as it leaves the heart. A ligament connects the pulmonary artery and one of the arteries that branch off the aorta, trapping the trachea and esophagus inside.

Your doctor can explain the type your child has.

Vascular Rings at Seattle Children’s

Our heart team has treated many children with vascular rings. We have extensive experience with all of the possible surgical treatments these patients may require.

When you come to Seattle Children’s, a team of people will take care of your child. Along with your child’s heart doctor (cardiologist), you are connected with surgeons, newborn specialists (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 also 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.

Contact Us

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