Common arterial trunk

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Learn about common arterial trunk, a defect in which a single great artery comes out of the ventricles instead of the usual pulmonary artery and aorta.

Key points

  • Common arterial trunk results in lower oxygen levels in blood and less blood reaching the body.
  • Symptoms include congestive heart failure and a heart murmur.
  • Surgery is generally required early in life, resulting in a high survival rate.

Common arterial trunk is a defect in which a single great artery, or "trunk," comes out of the ventricles instead of the usual pulmonary artery and aorta. This big artery sits on top of the left and right ventricle and is usually accompanied by a ventricular septal defect. The condition results in too much blood being directed to the lungs, so the heart must work much harder to deliver a normal amount of blood to the body. In some cases the heart and body do not receive enough blood flow. The two illustrations below compare a normal heart to a heart with a common arterial trunk.

Normal heartNormal heart showing placement of the atria, ventricles, aorta, superior vena cava, inferior vena cava, pulmonary artery and pulmonary veins
The heart has two upper (receiving) and two lower (pumping) chambers. Blood flows into the upper chambers (the right atrium and the left atrium). The lower chambers (the right and left ventricles) pump blood out of the heart. The heart valves open and close to keep blood flowing in the correct direction.
Common arterial trunkHeart with a common arterial trunk which gives rise to aorta, pulmonary artery and coronary arteries. Ventricular septal defect under trunk allows blood from both ventricles to mix
A single great artery (the common arterial trunk) arises from both ventricles and divides into the aorta and the main pulmonary artery. The coronary arteries also arise from the trunk. The common arterial trunk has a single truncal valve instead of the usual aortic and pulmonary valves and a ventricular septal defect is always present. Blood high in oxygen mixes with blood low in oxygen resulting in less oxygen being delivered to the body.

Common arterial trunks makes up 1.1% to 2.5% of all types of congenital heart disease.

What are the symptoms of common arterial trunk?

Symptoms include congestive heart failure and heart murmur.

A diagnosis is usually made by way of an echocardiogram or cardiac catheterization.

How is common arterial trunk treated?

This defect generally requires surgery early in life. This involves closing the ventricular septal defect, separating the pulmonary arteries from the large common artery, and connecting the pulmonary arteries to the right ventricle by way of an artificial connection, or conduit.

What is the long-term outlook for children with common arterial trunk?

With surgery, about 90% of children survive. The outlook is good, though additional surgery to replace the conduit may be needed later in life as your child grows.

Last updated: December 4th 2009