Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) is a congenital heart defect that is common in babies born prematurely, but rare when pregnancies go full-term. The ductus arteriosus is a temporary blood vessel that, in fetuses, allows the blood to skip circulation to the lungs, because oxygen is delivered through the mother’s placenta. (The word “patent” means “open” in Latin.) Once a baby is born and begins breathing through its own lungs, the ductus arteriosus begins to narrow and is meant to close within a few days. If this doesn’t happen, the baby has PDA, a condition that may require intervention.
“PDA leaves a hole that might be three to five millimeters in diameter—so pretty small, but in a small baby that can be a big problem,” says interventional cardiologist Jeremy Asnes, MD, chief of pediatric cardiology for Yale Medicine and co-director of the Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital Heart Center.
The traditional treatment for a PDA that doesn’t close naturally is heart surgery. Though the procedure is life-saving, it can be traumatic for a small body. Catheterization techniques to close a PDA were developed in 1990s and are now the standard of care in children. However, only recently have techniques and devices been developed to address this problem in small, prematurely born babies.