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The relationship between the heart and the lungs is one that keeps us alive. Blood from the heart travels to the lungs, where it collects the vital oxygen needed to power organs and tissues all over the rest of the body. If it weren’t for blood collecting and distributing oxygen, there’d be no point in the lungs storing it in the first place.
For babies born with a condition called pulmonary atresia, though, this process is blocked from the start. This birth defect causes problems with the flow of blood to the lungs, and can be a serious medical situation for newborns. Here are some of the facts, symptoms and treatment options for pulmonary atresia.
To fully understand pulmonary atresia, let’s break down how the heart and lungs work together.
The heart splits up responsibilities between its left and right side. Blood leaves the heart from the right side, heading to the lungs to collect oxygen, before it returns to the left side. From there, the left side of the heart pumps the blood (now with oxygen) to the rest of the body.
Pulmonary atresia blocks the first step in this process. The pulmonary valve, or the valve that opens to allow blood to move from the heart to the lungs, doesn’t form correctly in those born with pulmonary atresia, and doesn’t allow blood to reach the lungs.
The heart will try to look for other ways to get blood to the lungs when this happens, but the body’s options only last for a few days in a baby’s life. If immediate medical attention isn’t arranged, nearly all cases of pulmonary atresia will cause death when these temporary options run out.
Most symptoms of pulmonary atresia show up within a few hours of a baby’s life, or a few days at most. Doctors recognize most cases before the baby ever leaves the hospital. Symptoms include:
Studies have not been able to prove any direct causes of pulmonary atresia in babies, but they have shown several factors that can raise the risk:
After a doctor identifies pulmonary atresia using one of a few low-risk methods, they look to begin treatment as soon as possible. There are three main types of treatment for pulmonary atresia.
This is not a permanent solution, but rather an injected medication designed to keep the passage between the heart and lungs open for a short time. This allows doctors enough time to figure out the best permanent course of action, but does not cure pulmonary atresia on its own.
A long tube called a catheter can solve the problem for some pulmonary atresia patients. The catheter is usually inserted at the groin and fed up to the heart, where a few different procedures can be used to help keep blood flow open from the heart to the lungs.
Many cases of pulmonary atresia call for one of a few types of surgery, and some babies even need more than one surgery to fully solve the issue. In worst-case scenarios, the heart is too damaged to repair and a heart transplant is needed.
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.