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The heart is divided into four chambers. The two upper chambers are called atria and the two lower chambers are called ventricles. The heart contains four valves. The valves open and close to keep blood flowing forward through the heart. The pulmonary valve is located between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery. It has three leaflets that open and close to allow blood through. It controls the flow of blood from the heart to the lungs. Pulmonary stenosis (PS) occurs when this valve doesn’t open all the way. It can also occur when the area above or below the valve is too narrow. As a result, blood flow to the lungs is obstructed (blocked). This condition can lead to certain heart problems over time. But it can often be treated.
PS can be described as:
Supravalvar, when obstruction occurs above the valve (the pulmonary artery may be too narrow).
Valvar, when obstruction occurs at the valve (leaflets may be too thick or are stuck together).
Subvalvar, when obstruction occurs below the valve (area below the valve may be too narrow).
PS is a congenital heart defect. This means it’s a problem with the heart’s structure that your child was born with. It can be the only defect, or it can be part of a more complex set of defects. The exact cause is unknown, but most cases seem to occur by chance. Having a family history of heart defects can be a risk factor.
PS forces the right ventricle to work harder to pump blood through the pulmonary valve into the pulmonary artery to reach the lungs. This causes the right ventricle to thicken (hypertrophy) and get larger. Over time, the right ventricle can become so overworked that it no longer pumps blood well. This condition is known as congestive heart failure (CHF).
Children with valve problems such as PS may be at risk of developing an infection of the heart’s inner lining or valves. This infection is called infective endocarditis.
Children with mild or moderate PS can appear to be in normal health and have no symptoms. Children with severe or critical PS will usually have symptoms. These can include:
Trouble feeding (in infants)
Poor weight gain (in infants)
Cyanosis (skin, lips, and nails appear blue due to lack of oxygen in the blood)
During a physical exam, the doctor checks for signs of a heart problem such as a heart murmur. This is an extra noise caused when blood doesn’t flow smoothly through the heart. If a heart problem is suspected, your child will be referred to a pediatric cardiologist. This is a doctor who diagnoses and treats heart problems in children. To check for PS, the following tests may be done:
Chest x-ray: X-rays are used to take a picture of the heart and lungs.
Electrocardiography (ECG or EKG): The electrical activity of the heart is recorded.
Echocardiography (echo): Sound waves (ultrasound) are used to create a picture of the heart and look for structural defects.
Mild or moderate PS usually requires no treatment. But regular visits with a cardiologist are needed. This is to make sure that narrowing at or near the valve doesn’t worsen over time.
Severe or critical PS requires treatment. It’s most often treated with a procedure called balloon valvuloplasty. This procedure is described below. Heart surgery to repair or replace the valve is also an option. The cardiologist will tell you more about heart surgery if it’s needed.
Balloon valvuloplasty is a procedure done on the heart using a thin, flexible tube called a catheter. It’s performed by a cardiologist who has special training to use catheters to treat heart problems (cardiac catheterization). The procedure lasts about 2–4 hours. It takes place in a catheterization laboratory. You’ll stay in the waiting room during the procedure.
Before the procedure:
You’ll be told to keep your child from eating or drinking anything for a certain amount of time before the procedure. Follow these instructions carefully.
During the procedure:
Your child is given medication (sedative or anesthesia). This is to help him or her relax and not feel discomfort or pain during the procedure. A breathing tube may be placed in your child’s trachea (windpipe). Special equipment monitors your child’s heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen levels. The catheter insertion site (the groin) is cleaned and numbed. Then the catheter is inserted into a blood vessel in the groin. With the help of live x-rays, the catheter is advanced up through this blood vessel into the heart. Contrast dye may be injected through the catheter. The dye allows the inside of the heart to be seen more clearly on x-rays. A tiny balloon at the end of the catheter is inflated one or more times in the pulmonary valve. This forces the valve leaflets open. Then the catheter and balloon are removed.
After the procedure: Your child is taken to a recovery room. You can stay with your child during much of this time. It may take 1–4 hours for medications to wear off. Pressure is applied to the catheter insertion site to limit bleeding. The doctor or nurse will tell you how long your child needs to lie down and keep the insertion site still. Your child is cared for and monitored until he or she can leave the hospital. An overnight hospital stay is usually required.
Reaction to contrast dye
Reaction to sedative or anesthesia
Pain, swelling, redness, bleeding, or drainage at the catheter insertion site
Valve insufficiency (leakage of blood through the pulmonary valve back into the right ventricle)
Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm)
The need for further treatment to repair or replace the valve
Injury to the heart or a blood vessel
After the balloon valvuloplasty procedure, call the doctor right away if your child has:
Increased pain, swelling, redness, bleeding, or drainage at the catheter insertion site.
In an infant under 3 months old, a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38.0ºC) or higher
In a child 3-36 months, a rectal temperature of 102°F (39.0ºC)or higher
In a child of any age who has a temperature of 103°F (39.4ºC) or higher
A fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under 2 years old or for 3 days in a child 2 years older.
A seizure caused by the fever
An irregular heartbeat.
All treatment options for PS are palliative (relieve symptoms). This means that the pulmonary valve is not repaired and will always be somewhat abnormal. Further problems with the valve may occur again in the future.
After treatment, most children with PS can be active like other children.
Regular follow-up visits with a cardiologist are needed. This is to make sure the valve doesn’t become obstructed again or have too much leakage. The frequency of these visits may decrease as your child grows older.
To prevent infective endocarditis, your child may need to take antibiotics before having any surgery or dental work. Antibiotics should be taken as directed by the cardiologist.
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