While a baby is still in the womb, their blood flows differently than it does after birth. Blood does not flow through the baby's lungs to receive oxygen. Unborn babies receive oxygen from their mother's blood through the umbilical cord. The ductus arteriosus is a passageway that allows the baby's blood to flow directly from the heart, past the lungs, and out to the rest of the body. After birth, this passageway normally closes and blood begins to flow through the lungs to receive oxygen.
Sometimes this passageway will fail to close after birth. This occurs often in premature infants. When the ductus remains open, it is called a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). A PDA can open and close many times.
How is PDA detected?
Doctors and nurses may first detect a PDA while listening to the baby's heart with a stethoscope. A PDA makes a swishing sound called a murmur. A murmur is any extra or unusual sound within the heart. A baby with a PDA can also appear a dusky blue color and may need extra oxygen to stay pink. An ultrasound of the heart is required to confirm the diagnosis of a PDA. This is done in the nursery at the baby's bedside.
How is a PDA treated?
Some PDA's close on their own and need no treatment. Other babies may receive medicine to help close the PDA. If the PDA does not close on its own or after medications, surgery may be required.