What is truncus arteriosus?

Truncus arteriosus is a rare heart condition that a baby is born with (called a congenital heart defect). A baby born with truncus arteriosus has only one blood vessel coming out of the heart instead of the normal two — one to carry blood to the lungs (pulmonary artery) and one to carry blood out to the body (aorta). Instead, this one large blood vessel (trunk) leads to smaller vessels that bring blood to the body and lungs. Most babies with truncus arteriosus also have a hole (called a ventricular septal defect) between the heart's two bottom chambers (ventricles).

This problem with the heart's structure means the heart must work hard to pump blood to the lungs and body, which can damage the heart and lungs and lead to breathing problems and heart failure.

What are the symptoms of truncus arteriosus?

Symptoms of truncus arteriosus usually occur in the first few days or weeks after birth. They may be more noticeable when your baby is trying to feed. Some common symptoms include:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Fast heart rate
  • Bluish coloring of the skin, lips and nails
  • Poor feeding or not gaining weight
  • Being very sleepy

What causes truncus arteriosus?

Experts do know what causes truncus arteriosus. In a small number of children, heart defects are sometimes caused by genetics.

How is truncus arteriosus treated?

Babies with truncus arteriosus need surgery soon after birth, usually before the time they are 2 months old. Surgery usually involves the following steps:

  • Closing the hole (ventral septal defect) between the bottom chambers of the heart with a patch.
  • Placing a conduit (artificial tube) creates a connection between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery.
  • Repairing the trunk to create a functioning aorta.

Your baby may also need other repairs, depending on their heart defects.

As your child grows, they will have follow-up visits with a cardiologist (a heart doctor) and may need additional surgeries. Your care team at Arkansas Children's is experienced in treating truncus arteriosus and will work with you to develop the best long-term treatment plan for your child.

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