A small patent ductus arteriosus may not cause any complications. Larger defects that are untreated could cause:

  • High blood pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension). If too much blood continues to circulate through the heart's main arteries through a patent ductus arteriosus, it can lead to pulmonary hypertension. Pulmonary hypertension can cause permanent lung damage. A large patent ductus arteriosus can lead to Eisenmenger's syndrome, an irreversible type of pulmonary hypertension.
  • Heart failure. A patent ductus arteriosus can eventually cause the heart to enlarge due to extra blood flow and may cause the muscle to weaken, leading to heart failure. Heart failure is a chronic condition in which the heart can't pump effectively.
  • An infection of the heart (endocarditis). People with structural heart problems, such as a patent ductus arteriosus, are at a higher risk of infectious endocarditis than is the general population. Infectious endocarditis is an inflammation of the inner lining of the heart caused by a bacterial infection.
  • Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). Enlargement of the heart due to a patent ductus arteriosus increases the risk of arrhythmias. This increased risk usually occurs only with a large patent ductus arteriosus.

Patent ductus arteriosus and pregnancy

Pregnancy is often a concern for women born with a heart defect. Most women with a small patent ductus arteriosus can tolerate pregnancy without any problems. However, having a larger defect or having complications, such as heart failure, arrhythmias or pulmonary hypertension, can increase your risk of complications during pregnancy. A woman with Eisenmenger's syndrome shouldn't become pregnant because it can endanger the woman's life.

Anyone with a congenital heart defect, repaired or not, who is considering starting a family should carefully discuss it beforehand with his or her doctor. In some cases, preconception consultations with doctors who specialize in cardiology, genetics and high-risk obstetric care are needed. Some heart medications can cause serious problems for a developing baby and may need to be stopped or adjusted before you become pregnant.

Dec. 22, 2011