Blalock-Taussig shunts, or BT shunts, are used for defects that affect the flow of blood from the right ventricle, through the pulmonary artery, and to the lungs. These include pulmonary atresia, pulmonary stenosis, and tricuspid atresia.
The BT shunt is a palliative procedure. It does not correct the defect, but it helps to resolve symptoms until the child is older and/or the defect itself can be repaired. It is also called the blue baby operation.
A shunt is a small tube made out of synthetic material called Gore-Tex. The BT shunt is about 3 to 3.5 cm in diameter. It attaches a section of the aorta to the pulmonary artery, creating a sort of detour. This allows enough blood to pass through the lungs and pick up more oxygen. The shunt relieves any cyanosis or blueness the child might have been experiencing. This is a closed-heart procedure.
The BT shunt mimics the role of the ductus arteriosus. It is often put in place after the ductus closes naturally. Shunts are usually used for four to five months, until the child outgrows them and a second operation or definitive repair is needed.
Risks of the BT shunt
Risks include shunt blockage, tube infection, and excessive blood flow to the lungs risking vessel damage or decreased flow of blood to the brain and body.