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Treatment of Heart Conditions

NICU Baby with wires, close-up
Depending on the specific condition, there are several approaches to treating premature babies with heart conditions. In mild cases, simply supporting the baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and waiting while the heart matures and gains strength can be enough. For example, a patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) is one of the more common heart problems seen in premature babies. The ductus arteriosus is an open tube between chambers of the heart that allows blood to bypass the lungs. In the womb, this tube is open.

Under normal circumstances, once the baby is born, the tube begins to close and should be sealed off within days. In some premature babies, though, the tube remains open, or patent. While there are several ways to treat a PDA, if the opening is small, it may just need extra time to close. In these cases, the premature baby will be supported but no major intervention is required for the baby to get well. If the opening is large, the baby may have increasing breathing problems, heart failure and/or poor blood supply to the body. This may require medical treatment.

Heart conditions are often linked to problems with the lung and vice versa. The two organs are essentially part of one system that supplies oxygen to the body. Sometimes a lung problem will affect the heart and the successful treatment of the lung will also resolve issues with the heart.

The goal of treatment is to encourage the heart to function as normally as possible, regularly pumping the right amount of blood through the blood vessels and ensuring an adequate supply of oxygen to all parts of the body. If some intervention is required, it will typically involve using medications to increase the volume of the heart or support a failing heart, or surgery to repair a defect.

More information

Patrick McNamara, MB, BCh, BAO, FRCPC