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Your premature baby - heart and blood flow

It's worrying if you discover that your baby has a heart problem, but most defects are treatable and some do not even need treatment.

Your baby's heart beats very quickly to pump the blood around her body, delivering oxygen and nutrients wherever they are needed. The heart and its functions are closely linked to breathing, in the cardiovascular system.

Congenital heart disease (CHD)

Sometimes the heart does not develop normally in the womb, leading to congenital heart disease. If this is the case the precise problem will be diagnosed by a special ultrasound scan called echocardiography.

Some forms of congenital heart disease do not need treatment, such as small holes in the heart, while others are life-threatening and will need surgery to correct the problem.

Patent ductus arteriosus

Around the time of birth a blood vessel that is used to divert blood away from the lungs (the ductus arteriosus) closes so that blood can be pumped to the lungs. It is common for this closure to be delayed in premature babies. This is known as patent ductus arteriosus.

In the vast majority of cases, this delay does not cause a problem to the baby and the duct will often close by itself by term equivalent age. However, in a small number of cases it can cause problems.

If your doctor thinks this is the case then they may use a medicine to try to close the duct, or may suggest surgery.


Sometimes when babies have periodic breathing or apnoea their heart slows down. This is known as bradycardia.

Low blood pressure (hypotension)

Occasionally a premature baby or sick term baby's blood pressure is too low. It is important that the baby's blood pressure remains at the right level and does not fluctuate too much. If it drops too low, this could affect brain development, so the healthcare team may raise her blood pressure with extra fluids or drugs.

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You can also read about

The following organisations can give you more information about the topics covered in this section.

Reviewed April 2014, next review April 2017


ADAM Medical Encylopedia (accessed Sept 2011) Patent Ductus Arteriosus, PubMed Health,

BMJ Best Practice (2011) Premature newborn care, Treatment, details,

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