When you bring a child into the world, you’ll stop at nothing to protect them. That’s why, if you notice something isn’t quite right with your newborn, you take action quickly. It’s frightening to see your baby experiencing issues — especially when those problems are life-threatening. But, what can you do when that life-threatening condition is pulmonary atresia? What is it? And, how can you ensure the health and safety of your baby?
What is pulmonary atresia?
Pulmonary atresia is a congenital disability that impacts the heart valve controlling blood flow from the heart to the lungs. In babies with this defect, the valve doesn’t form, and blood has trouble flowing to the lungs to pick up oxygen for the body. Before your child is born, they receive oxygen from your placenta, but after birth, they need to rely on their lungs — and therefore, the pulmonary valve. If your baby has pulmonary atresia, their body will seek alternative ways to get oxygen, but this usually involves a valve that closes soon after birth. Without this alternative, your baby can’t get the oxygen they need.
Symptoms of Pulmonary Atresia
In most cases, pulmonary atresia is identified before you are even discharged from the hospital. That’s because the symptoms are easy to notice. They include:
Cyanosis — blue- or gray-toned skin from lack of oxygen
Fast breathing or shortness of breath
Easily tiring or being fatigued
In some cases, you may make it home before your baby develops symptoms. You should seek emergency medical care immediately if your newborn develops cyanosis.
Pulmonary atresia can be diagnosed as early as during your pregnancy. Prenatal tests can be conducted to identify birth defects and other conditions. In some cases, the condition can be seen in ultrasounds. If your doctor suspects pulmonary atresia during an ultrasound, they’ll likely request a fetal echocardiogram to confirm the diagnosis — which tests the baby’s heart and major blood vessels.
If no complications are seen during pregnancy, pulmonary atresia can also be quickly diagnosed after birth. During the physical exam, your doctor may see symptoms of the condition — such as cyanosis — and check for a heart murmur. If they suspect pulmonary atresia, they’ll request an echocardiogram. If more testing is needed, they may also request an electrocardiogram, which measures the electrical activity of the heart.
Prevention & Treatment
While the exact cause of why pulmonary atresia occurs is unknown, there are some things you can do to help reduce the risk of your child developing the congenital heart condition. This includes:
Controlling chronic medical conditions
Quitting smoking or not smoking
Maintaining a healthy weight
Getting the measles (rubella) vaccine
Failing to treat a child with pulmonary atresia is fatal. Once diagnosed, your child has a couple of options depending on the severity of the condition. Sometimes, medicine can be taken to prevent the alternative valve from closing — allowing your child to get oxygen that way. But, this isn’t always a long-term solution.
If their case is mild, sometimes blood flow can be improved by inserting a thin tube into a blood vessel and guiding it to the heart (a procedure called cardiac catheterization). During this process, your doctor can expand the valve either by using a balloon or by placing a small tube (stent) to keep the alternative valve open.
In most cases, however, your baby will need surgery soon after birth. During the procedure, your doctor widens or replaces the pulmonary valve and enlarges the passage to the pulmonary artery. Depending on if your baby has a ventricle septal defect, your doctor will either place a patch over the ventricular septal defect to close the hole between the two lower chambers of the heart or conduct a staged surgical procedure. This improves blood flow to the lungs and the rest of the body.
Caring for a Child With Pulmonary Atresia
Even if your child has surgery to correct their pulmonary valve, they will still need regular follow-up visits with a doctor to monitor their progress. How often these appointments take place may vary. You can also help your child at home by:
Ensuring your child stays active
Keeping up with routine well-child care — such as vaccines against the flu, pneumonia, and respiratory syncytial virus infections
Having your child take preventive antibiotics before certain dental and other procedures
Practicing good oral hygiene
Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care in Florida
It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help.
Our home health care services offer support 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 in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.