Surgery is the only effective treatment for tetralogy of Fallot. Surgical options include intracardiac repair or a temporary procedure that uses a shunt. However, most babies and older children have intracardiac repair.

Your or your child's doctors will determine the most appropriate surgery and the timing of the surgery based on your or your child's condition.

In some cases your child may need medicine to keep the opening between two large blood vessels in the heart open. This can help to maintain blood flow from the heart to the lungs before intracardiac repair.

Intracardiac repair

This open-heart surgery is usually done during the first year after birth and involves several repairs. Adults with tetralogy of Fallot rarely may undergo this procedure if they didn't have surgical repair as children.

The surgeon places a patch over the ventricular septal defect to close the hole between the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles).

He or she also repairs or replaces the narrowed pulmonary valve and widens the pulmonary arteries to increase blood flow to the lungs.

Because the right ventricle won't need to work as hard to pump blood after this procedure, the right ventricle wall will go back to its normal thickness. After intracardiac repair, the oxygen level in the blood increases and symptoms will lessen.

Temporary surgery

Occasionally babies need to undergo a temporary (palliative) surgery before having intracardiac repair in order to improve blood flow to the lungs. This procedure may be done if your baby was born prematurely or has pulmonary arteries that are undeveloped (hypoplastic).

In this procedure, the surgeon creates a bypass (shunt) between a large artery that branches off from the aorta and the pulmonary artery.

When your baby is ready for intracardiac repair, the surgeon removes the shunt during the procedure for intracardiac repair.

After surgery

While most babies and adults do well after intracardiac repair, long-term complications are common. Complications may include:

  • Chronic pulmonary regurgitation, in which blood leaks through the pulmonary valve back into the pumping chamber (right ventricle)
  • Other heart valve problems, such as blood leaking back through the tricuspid valve
  • Holes in the wall between the ventricles (ventricular septal defects) that may continue to leak after repair or may need re-repair
  • Enlarged right ventricle or left ventricle that isn't working properly
  • Irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias)
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Aortic root dilation, in which the ascending aorta enlarges
  • Sudden cardiac death

Complications can continue throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood for people with tetralogy of Fallot. Most adults with repaired tetralogy of Fallot may require another procedure or intervention during their lifetimes. It's very important to have regular follow-up with a cardiologist trained in caring for people with congenital heart disease (pediatric cardiologist or adult congenital cardiologist) who can evaluate you and determine the appropriate timing of another intervention or procedure.

Sometimes blood flow to the lungs may still be restricted after intracardiac repair. Infants, children or adults with these complications might require additional surgeries. More commonly, there is leakage through the repaired pulmonary valve. Most adults with repaired tetralogy of Fallot may have pulmonary valve leakage (regurgitation) and may need to have the pulmonary valve replaced during their lifetimes. Your cardiologist will determine the most appropriate timing for this procedure.

Arrhythmias are common after repair and may be treated with medications, a procedure to treat the arrhythmias (ablation) or a special pacemaker device that treats life-threatening heart rhythms (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator).

In addition, as with any surgery, there's a risk of infection, unexpected bleeding or blood clots.

Ongoing care

After surgery you or your child will need lifelong care with a cardiologist trained in treating congenital heart disease (adult congenital cardiologist or pediatric cardiologist), including routine follow-up appointments to make sure that the initial operation or procedure was successful and to monitor for any new complications.

Your or your child's doctor may conduct a physical examination and order tests in regular follow-up appointments to evaluate and monitor your or your child's condition.

The doctor might also recommend that you or your child limit strenuous physical activity, particularly if there's any pulmonary valve leakage or obstruction, or arrhythmias.

Sometimes, antibiotics are recommended during dental procedures to prevent infections that might cause endocarditis — an inflammation of the lining of the heart. Antibiotics are especially important for those who have had prior endocarditis, have artificial valves or have had repair with prosthetic material. Ask the doctor what's right for you or your child.

Aug. 26, 2017
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