An interrupted aortic arch (IAA) is a rare heart
condition that happens when the aorta doesn't form completely. The aorta is the heart's
main pipeline, carrying oxygen-rich blood to the body. Normally, it's shaped like
an arch or curve. In an interrupted aortic arch, part of the aorta is missing, leaving
What Happens When a Baby Has an Interrupted Aortic Arch (IAA)?
In an IAA, the ends of the aorta on either side of the gap are closed, so blood
does not flow into the gap. Body parts that are fed by blood vessel branches beyond
the gap (such as the legs and belly) will be damaged if the flow of oxygen-rich blood
is not restored.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of an Interrupted Aortic Arch (IAA)?
The gap in the aorta usually doesn't cause problems until after a baby is born.
That's because circulation before and during birth lets oxygen-rich blood reach the
lower half of the baby's body through a temporary blood vessel called the ductus
arteriosus. Within the first hours or days after a baby is born, the ductus arteriosus
When the ductus arteriosus begins closing in a baby with IAA, the baby will look
weak and may feed poorly. As the vessel closes more completely, symptoms become more
severe and life-threatening. The lack of blood flow and oxygen can damage the liver,
The baby's legs may look gray and feel cool compared with the shoulders and head.
The baby's pulse can be felt in the right arm but will be weak or absent in the legs.
Depending on the location of the gap in the aorta, a normal pulse might not be felt
in the baby's left arm.
What Causes Interrupted Aortic Arch (IAA)?
The problem happens when the aorta does not form properly early in pregnancy. Sometimes,
it's related to a genetic
condition that can be inherited, but it can happen with no known cause.
Who Gets an Interrupted Aortic Arch (IAA)?
An interrupted aortic arch can be related to a genetic disorder such as 22q11.2
deletion syndrome (also known as DiGeorge syndrome), so genetic
testing usually is recommended.
How Is an Interrupted Aortic Arch (IAA) Diagnosed?
Ultrasound images before birth can detect an IAA. Otherwise, changes in a newborn's
appearance and activity 1–2 days after birth can be signs of the problem.
Comparing pulses in the baby's arms and legs may help identify an IAA. A pulse
oximeter can measure the oxygen level in the baby's fingers and toes. Doctors confirm
the diagnosis with an ultrasound of the baby's heart (an echocardiogram).
How Is an Interrupted Aortic Arch (IAA) Treated?
Babies whose IAA is found on prenatal ultrasound are treated with a medicine called
prostaglandin right after birth. The baby gets the prostaglandin
through a tiny intravenous (IV) tube that delivers medicine continuously. It slows
or stops the closing of the ductus arteriosus so oxygen-rich blood can continue flowing
to the baby's lower body until surgery to repair the aortic arch is done.
If the IAA was not found before birth, prostaglandin is started as soon as the
diagnosis is made.
Surgery is done early in the baby's life, often within the first few days. The
surgeon will close the gap in the aorta, rebuilding it into a normal size vessel.
The VSD and any other heart problems are usually fixed at the same time.
Treatment also includes:
heart and other medicines
intubation (a tube is placed in the baby's windpipe so a ventilator can give additional
oxygen and assist the baby's breathing)
sedation (medicines to keep the baby asleep while intubated)
After surgery, oxygen levels throughout the baby's body will return to normal and
most symptoms will disappear. Over time, the child's aorta and the pathway to the
aorta may not grow as fast or as large as they should. The valves or vessels may form
a narrow, pinched area called a stenosis,
requiring further surgery or a cardiac
catheterization procedure to stretch open the narrow area with a balloon.
Follow-up appointments with a pediatric cardiologist (a doctor who specializes
in treating heart problems) are essential for a baby born with an IAA. The doctor
will watch for any problems, such as scar tissue or narrowing in the heart or blood
vessels. The doctor might recommend giving the child antibiotics before medical or
dental procedures to prevent infections of the heart's valves and its inner lining.
As kids born with an IAA become teens and young adults, parents should remind them
that they need to follow up regularly with their heart doctor.