Treatment for tetralogy of Fallot
Children's National Heart Institute performed 19 tetralogy of Fallot repairs last year, with a 100 percent survival rate. Read about our other cardiac surgery outcomes.
Specific treatment for tetralogy of Fallot will be determined by your child's doctor based on:
Your child's age, overall health, and medical history
Extent of the condition
Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
Expectations for the course of the condition
Your opinion or preference
Tetralogy of Fallot is treated by surgical repair of the defects. A team of cardiac surgeons performs the surgery, usually before an infant is 1 year old. In many cases, the repair is made at around 6 months of age, or even a little earlier. Repairing the heart defects will allow oxygen-poor (blue) blood to travel its normal route through the pulmonary artery to receive oxygen.
The operation is performed under general anesthesia administered by a board-certified pediatric cardiac anesthesiologist, and involves the following:
The ventricular septal defect is closed with a patch.
The obstructed pathway between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery is opened and enlarged with a patch. If the pulmonary valve is small, it may be opened as well.
Postoperative care for your child
Children will spend time in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (Cardiac ICU) after tetralogy of Fallot repair. During the first several hours after surgery, your child will be very drowsy from the anesthesia that was used during the operation, and from medications given to relax him or her and to help with pain. As time goes by, your child will become more alert.
While your child is in the Cardiac ICU, special equipment will be used to help him or her recover, and may include the following:
Ventilator. A machine that helps your child breathe while he or she is under anesthesia during the operation. A small, plastic tube is guided into the windpipe and attached to the ventilator, which breathes for your child while he or she is too sleepy to breathe effectively on his or her own. After a tetralogy of Fallot repair, children will benefit from remaining on the ventilator for up to several days so they can rest.
Intravenous (IV) catheters. Small, plastic tubes inserted through the skin into blood vessels to provide IV fluids and important medicines that help your child recover from the operation.
Arterial line. A specialized IV placed in the wrist or other area of the body where a pulse can be felt, that measures blood pressure continuously during surgery and while your child is in the Cardiac ICU.
Nasogastric (NG) tube. A small, flexible tube that keeps the stomach drained of acid and gas bubbles that may build up during surgery.
Urinary catheter. A small, flexible tube that allows urine to drain out of the bladder and accurately measures how much urine the body makes, which helps determine how well the heart is functioning. After surgery, the heart may be a little weaker than it was before, and the body may start to hold onto fluid, causing swelling and puffiness. Diuretics may be given to help the kidneys remove excess fluid from the body.
Chest tube. A drainage tube may be inserted to keep the chest free of blood that would otherwise accumulate after the incision is closed. Bleeding may occur for several hours, or even a few days after surgery.
Heart monitor. A machine that constantly displays a picture of your child's heart rhythm, and monitors heart rate, arterial blood pressure, and other values.
Your child may need other equipment not mentioned here to provide support while in the Cardiac ICU, or afterwards. The hospital staff will explain all of the necessary equipment to you.
Your child will be kept as comfortable as possible with several different medications; some of which relieve pain, and some of which relieve anxiety. The staff will also be asking for your input as to how best to soothe and comfort your child.
After discharge from the Cardiac ICU, your child will recuperate on another hospital unit for a few days before going home. You will learn how to care for your child at home before your child is discharged. Your child may need to take medications for a while at home, and these will be explained to you. The staff will give you instructions regarding medications, activity limitations, and follow-up appointments before your child is discharged.
Caring for your child at home following tetralogy of Fallot repair
Pain medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may be recommended to keep your child comfortable at home. Your child's doctor will discuss pain control before your child is discharged from the hospital.
After surgery, older children usually have a fair tolerance for activity. Your child may become tired easily, and sleep more right after surgery, but, within a few weeks, your child should be fully recovered.
Long-term outlook after tetralogy of Fallot surgical repair
Most children who have had a tetralogy of Fallot surgical repair will live healthy lives. Activity levels, appetite, and growth will eventually return to normal in most children. Your child's cardiologist may recommend that antibiotics be given to prevent bacterial endocarditis after discharge from the hospital.
After initial repair of tetralogy of Fallot, pulmonary valve replacement is often indicated in the second or third decade of life to prevent complications, such as enlargement of the right ventricle, dysrhythmias, and heart failure. For women wishing to have children, preconception evaluation by echocardiogram and/or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is recommended.
Consult your child's doctors regarding the specific outlook for your child.