Patent Ductus Arteriosus in Children

June 13, 2023
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Learning that a child has been diagnosed with a congenital heart defect like patent ductus arteriosus can be a scary time that brings questions for any family. This is a serious condition, but it is also typically a manageable and treatable one.

If you’re a parent or caregiver caring for a child with patent ductus arteriosus, it is also important to learn as much as possible about this diagnosis, the treatment options, and how to meet care needs.

What is patent ductus arteriosus?

Patent ductus arteriosus is a congenital heart defect where an opening between two major blood vessels leading from the heart does not successfully close after birth. Typically, the ductus arteriosus is an opening between the aorta and the pulmonary artery that helps to ensure blood flows away from the lungs as a fetus develops. During this time, babies receive oxygen from the mother’s blood.

This opening is supposed to close in the days after birth. Problems can develop due to excessive blood flowing into the heart and lungs if the opening does not close after birth.

What causes patent ductus arteriosus, and what are the risk factors?

Like so many other congenital heart defects, the causes of patent ductus arteriosus are not fully understood. In some cases, it may be due to genetics affecting how the heart develops in the womb or shortly after birth. In other situations, it may be related to environmental factors such as altitude or specific conditions of the mother.

Often, doctors cannot identify a clear cause of a patent ductus arteriosus.

Risk factors include:

  • Premature birth
  • Family history of congenital heart defects
  • Conditions during pregnancy, such as rubella
  • Birth at a high altitude
  • Being female; patent ductus arteriosus is more common in females than in males

Symptoms of Patent Ductus Arteriosus

Common symptoms of patent ductus arteriosus in babies include:

  • Murmur heard while listening to the heart
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Lethargy and lack of energy
  • Developmental delays and lack of growth
  • Fast breathing
  • Poor feeding
  • Sweating when crying or eating

It is important to seek medical attention for children experiencing symptoms to avoid potential complications, including high blood pressure, heart infections, and heart failure.

Diagnosing Patent Ductus Arteriosus

Severe cases of patent ductus arteriosus are often identified shortly after birth due to the presence of symptoms. Other cases may cause little or no symptoms and may not be identified until later in life. Steps doctors will take to identify the source of symptoms and diagnose patent ductus arteriosus include:

  • Asking questions about specific symptoms
  • Reviewing medical history
  • Performing a physical examination, including listening to heartbeat and breathing
  • Ordering diagnostic testing such as echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart), chest X-ray, and electrocardiogram

If patent ductus arteriosus is present and causing problems, you can work with your child’s treatment team to develop an effective care plan to manage this condition.

Treating Patent Ductus Arteriosus in Children

Treatment depends on the child’s age, the size of the opening, and the severity of symptoms and complications. In the most minor cases, no treatment may be necessary other than monitoring the condition and checking heart function during regular doctor visits. In other cases, medications may be able to help manage symptoms and improve heart function.

For more severe cases, surgery may be needed. Surgical approaches include catheter procedures which involve using a thin tube to insert a plug into the opening, and open heart procedures. Open heart surgery to repair the opening can have a higher risk than catheter procedures but may be necessary for large openings causing serious complications.

After the procedure, children will usually stay in the hospital for recovery and monitoring.

Caring for a Child With Ductus Arteriosus

Children diagnosed with severe cases of patent ductus arteriosus typically require ongoing care and monitoring. This often includes ongoing appointments to monitor heart function and taking steps to prevent complications and infections. Many children with patent ductus arteriosus also require activity modification, prescription medication, and may have special nutritional needs.

There are many steps families can take to help children with patent ductus arteriosus adjust to the long-term needs of this condition and enjoy a healthy and active childhood. The most important thing is to follow all care instructions from your child’s treatment providers. In many cases, support groups and counseling can also be a great way to manage emotional and behavioral concerns in older children.

One type of support that can help families dealing with busy schedules and the needs of multiple children is pediatric home health services. A home health professional, including registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs), can help children and families living with patent ductus arteriosus receive the care and attention they need. Home health services can be individualized for various situations, accompanying children to appointments, and assisting with medication and nutritional needs.

Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help. We have been enforcing precautionary measures and following the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for COVID-19 to ensure the safety and health of our clients and employees.

Our home health care services offer support one-on-one in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free Pediatric Consultation. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you or a loved one are considering pediatric home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.