Tetralogy of Fallot

May 8, 2022
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Parents of children diagnosed with a congenital heart defect such as Tetralogy of Fallot find themselves thrust into a situation with so many unknowns and challenges. We understand what a difficult and stressful time this can be, and it’s natural to want to know as much as possible about this condition and the potential treatment options.

Keeping a positive attitude and educating yourself as a caregiver are two of the most important things you can do to help your child if they have Tetralogy of Fallot. This guide will give you a practical understanding of this condition, including the causes, treatment options, and care considerations so your family can thrive.

What is Tetralogy of Fallot?

A congenital heart defect refers to any heart condition that is present from birth. With Tetralogy of Fallot, there is a combination of four congenital defects that combine to reduce the oxygen content of the blood flowing out of the heart. The four defects in Tetralogy of Fallot are:

  1. Pulmonary valve stenosis: narrowing of the blood valve that separates the bottom right heart chamber from the blood vessel that flows to the lungs.
  2. Ventricular septal defect: a hole in the wall, or septum, that separates the bottom two chambers of the heart.
  3. Shifting of the aorta: the aorta is the main artery that carries blood to the rest of the body. With Tetralogy of Fallot, it shifts to the left and negatively affects the mixture of oxygen in the blood.
  4. Right ventricular hypertrophy: thickening of the lower right heart chamber caused by the heart having to work too hard to pump blood.

Tetralogy of Fallot is a rare condition, affecting about one in every 3,000 live births. It is usually detected and diagnosed in infancy, although in some less severe cases it may not be identified until adulthood. Corrective heart surgery is the standard treatment for this condition, and many people with this condition require ongoing care and monitoring of their heart well into adulthood.

Tetralogy of Fallot Causes

Like other congenital heart conditions, Tetralogy of Fallot develops while the heart is growing during pregnancy. Physicians and medical researchers are still working to fully understand the causes of this illness, which cannot be positively identified in most cases.

Tetralogy of Fallot Risk Factors

There are a number of risk factors that do seem to increase the chances of a child receiving a diagnosis of Tetralogy of Fallot. These risk factors include:

  • Presence of Tetralogy of Fallot in a family member, suggesting a potential genetic link
  • Advanced maternal age, particularly over 40
  • Serious illness during pregnancy, such as rubella
  • Alcohol consumption during pregnancy
  • Inadequate nutrition during pregnancy
  • Diagnosis of certain syndromes, such as Down’s syndrome

Tetralogy of Fallot Symptoms

Tetralogy of Fallot is usually identified early during infancy due to the presence of telltale symptoms. The most notable is a bluish tint to the skin due to a lack of oxygen in the blood. The severity of symptoms will depend on the degree of blockage in blood vessels and low levels of oxygen in the blood.

Frequent signs of Tetralogy of Fallot include:

  • Cyanosis, which is the bluish hue in the skin due to low blood oxygen levels
  • Shortness of breath and hyperventilation, particularly after strenuous activity of even feeding
  • Heart murmur or arrhythmia
  • Lack of normal development and weight gain
  • Increased irritability and crying
  • Clubbing in the fingers or toes, which is an abnormally rounded shape in the nail beds
  • Fatigue and risk of fainting

An episode of sudden increased blue tint in the skin, lips, and nails, as well as difficulty breathing, should receive immediate medical and/or emergency attention.

Tetralogy of Fallot Complications

A heart infection can be one of the most common complications of Tetralogy of Fallot and may require increased antibiotic medication before certain procedures, such as dental work. Untreated Tetralogy of Fallot can lead to the risk of serious disability and even death later in life, which is why identifying and addressing this condition as early as possible is so important.

Diagnosing Tetralogy of Fallot

Pediatricians can diagnose Tetralogy of Fallot with a number of tests, including:

  • Listening for arrhythmia through a stethoscope
  • Pulse oximetry, which measures blood oxygen levels
  • Chest X-ray
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) and echocardiogram to measure heart activity

Tetralogy of Fallot Treatment

Children diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot almost always require some form of heart repair surgery. The exact procedure will vary depending on the specific patient and the severity of the condition. One common procedure is intracardiac repair, which repairs the hole between the lower chamber and can help repair or replace the narrow heart valve.

Caring for a Child with Tetralogy of Fallot

After surgery, children will typically have ongoing care and monitoring needs, including regular appointments and imaging tests to ensure the heart is functioning properly. Activity modification, medications, and pacemakers are also common treatments for infants, children, and young adults living with Tetralogy of Fallot.

There are a number of measures that families can take to ensure wellness and achieve a healthy life balance with this condition. To address behavioral and emotional needs, counseling and support groups can be highly beneficial. Many families also utilize pediatric home health services to ensure children with Tetralogy of Fallot receive care and support for a wide range of needs.

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 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 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.

If you or a loved one are considering Pediatric Home Health Care Services in Florida, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.