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Heart and Main Vessels  
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Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Definition  

A vascular ring is a defect of the aorta and nearby large vessels. The aorta is the large artery that carries blood from the heart to the body. When the aorta and nearby large vessels form in abnormal positions, the trachea and esophagus can become constricted by the “ring” formed by these abnormal vessels. Examples of this type of defect include:

  • Double aortic arch
  • Right aortic arch

While vascular ring may be detected in infancy, it is often discovered later in life.

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Causes  

Vascular ring is a congenital defect. This means that the baby is born with the condition. During fetal growth in the womb, the large vessels near the heart do not develop normally. It is not known exactly why some children’s vessels develop in this way.

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Risk Factors  

Specific risk factors for vascular ring are not known.

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Symptoms  

Symptoms vary and can range from mild to severe. They may include:

  • Trouble breathing (wheezing, coughing, noisy breathing)
  • Lung infections
  • Poor feeding of solid food (eg, vomiting or choking)
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Acid reflux

These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. If your child has any of these, tell the doctor right away.

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Diagnosis  

Your doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:

  • Echocardiogram —an imaging test that uses sound waves to look at the size, shape, and motion of the heart
  • CT scan —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the chest
  • MRI scan —a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the body
  • Chest x-ray —an imaging test that uses low amounts of radiation to create an image of the chest
  • Electrocardiogram —a test that measures the electrical activity of the heart
  • Upper gastrointestinal series —a series of x-rays of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine)
  • Bronchoscopy —a visual exam of the air passages leading into the lungs
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Treatment  

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for your child. Treatment options include:

Surgery  

The goal of surgery is to divide the vascular ring and relieve compression on the trachea and esophagus. This surgery may even be done if your child has minor symptoms.

Other Treatments  

Before surgery, the doctor will treat your child’s symptoms. For example, the doctor will make sure that your child gets proper nutrition if he has swallowing problems. If your child has a bacterial respiratory infection, he will be treated with antibiotics.

Lifelong Monitoring  

Your child will have regular exams from a heart specialist.

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Prevention  

There is no way to prevent formation of a vascular ring. Getting appropriate prenatal care is always important.