Children’s heart conditions can’t be prevented, but a lot can be done to improve and often completely repair their hearts at any age. Thanks to advanced technology and the pediatric heart experts at the Nemours Cardiac Center (based at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children), most children born with a heart problem — even newborns only hours or days old — can be quickly diagnosed and treated right when it matters the most. At the Cardiac Center, we specialize in early detection and repair of congenital heart defects (also often called, “congenital heart disease”).
If your child’s been diagnosed with a vascular ring anomaly or a vascular sling, we’re here to ease your concerns, answer your questions, and give your child the best possible chance for a healthy future.
Vascular ring anomalies and vascular slings are abnormalities in the way that the blood vessels leaving the heart have grown when the baby was still in the womb. The abnormalities result in circles (a “vascular ring”) of blood vessels that enclose other structures in the chest within that circle.
This may limit the growth of other structures, most commonly the:
- trachea (the breathing tube through which inhaled air reaches the lungs)
- esophagus (the swallowing tube connecting mouth to the stomach)
This can cause difficulty swallowing and breathing and poor growth of those structures.
With vascular slings, there are similar problems, usually related to the way the pulmonary arteries have grown that also cause compression of the trachea and abnormal growth.
How Does the Heart Normally Work?
When your child has a congenital heart defect, there’s usually something wrong with the structure of the heart. In order to understand your child’s condition, it can help to know how the heart should work normally.
Learn More About Normal Cardiac Anatomy »
Nemours’ experts at KidsHealth.org also offer these helpful resources to help both you and your child understand how the heart works:
A vascular ring anomaly or vascular sling can be diagnosed in children at any age. Children usually have either breathing or swallowing problems.
These can include:
- noisy breathing
- frequent lung infections
- difficulty swallowing
Some children may have no symptoms at all.
A vascular ring anomaly and vascular sling can usually be diagnosed with a combination of chest X-rays, swallowing studies (in which X-rays are used to observe food being swallowed), and CT scans or MRI.
For children who do have symptoms, our Nemours Cardiac Center heart surgeons almost always recommend surgery, often done through a procedure called a “thoracotomy” (in which we make an incision through the side of the chest rather than the front). Depending on the exact abnormality, surgical repair usually involves dividing part of the blood vessel that’s creating the ring or sling and moving it, if necessary. But, depending on the exact type of ring, children who don’t have symptoms often don’t need to have anything done.
Children do well following surgery for a vascular ring anomaly or a vascular sling. Treatment enables the esophagus and trachea to grow normally. It’s rare (especially when diagnosed and treated early) for children to need any additional procedures.
If your child has a vascular ring anomaly or vascular sling, know that at the Nemours Cardiac Center we’re here to give your child the very best, most comprehensive and compassionate care. Our goal is to guide your family, from start to finish, through your child’s heart defect journey — and to help your child live the healthiest, most fulfilling life possible.
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Information for Patients
Outpatient Services and Inpatient Units: (302) 651-6660
After 5 p.m. and Weekends:
Cardiac Intensive Care Unit: (302) 651-6644
General Inpatient Unit, 2B: (302) 651-6690