How is patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) diagnosed?

A PDA is often diagnosed in premature babies while they are still in the hospital. The baby is believed to have a PDA when:

  • He or she needs more oxygen or more help breathing than expected;
  • He or she has more episodes of apnea (pauses in breathing);
  • His or her heart rate increases; or,
  • He or she does not gain weight.

In older children, PDA is suspected when a heart murmur is heard. Some patients, especially infants, may have symptoms of heart failure, such as rapid breathing, sweating, difficulty feeding, and poor weight gain. Many children may have no symptoms at all.

If the doctor thinks your child might have a PDA, he or she will order an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart). During an echocardiogram, sound waves are used to produce a picture of the child’s heart. This will help the doctor determine if there is a PDA and how much blood is flowing through it. This test is painless for the child.

How is PDA diagnosed in an adult?

Shortness of breath, heart palpitations and a heart murmur heard through the stethoscope will give the physician cause to suspect a heart defect and order some specific testing. This may include:

  • An echocardiogram: an ultrasound of the heart that clearly shows the heart’s structure and size. Doppler can also be used to assess the direction and velocity of blood flow through the PDA.
  • An electrocardiogram (ECG): a recording of the heart’s electrical activity that helps the physician detect abnormalities in the heart rhythm.
  • Oximetry (which can be obtained on both fingers and toes): a noninvasive procedure to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood and can identify patients in whom pulmonary hypertension has advanced and resulted in the reversal of blood flow through the PDA.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/17/2019.

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