Objective.

Angiographic visualization of systemic to pulmonary collaterals (SPC) has been documented in premature infants needing prolonged ventilatory support. Noninvasive identification of such communications in premature infants was reported recently. The purpose of this study was to describe: 1) incidence, 2) clinical findings and implications, and 3) short-term follow-up of SPC diagnosed by echocardiography in very low birth weight (VLBW) infants admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit.

Methods.

From December 1, 1994 to August 31, 1996, 196 infants with birth weight <1500 g were admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit; 133 of them received serial echocardiographic evaluations at 1 to 2 days, at 2 weeks, and at 1, 2, and 3 months of life. Follow-up echocardiograms were scheduled at 6 months and 1 year of age for patients with SPC persisting at 3 months of age.

Results.

SPC were demonstrated in 88 patients (66%) at 1 to 90 days of life (mean 28 days). In most cases, the SPC originated at the distal aortic arch or the proximal descending aorta. Ten patients (11%) were treated for congestive heart failure. The symptoms improved and anticongestive therapy was discontinued in 9. One patient with persistent congestive heart failure underwent therapeutic cardiac catheterization and 1 prominent SPC was embolized.

Conclusions.

The incidence of SPC in VLBW infants is much higher than previously reported. We postulate that SPC are bronchopulmonary communications that enlarge and/or proliferate in response to a given stimulus. These communications are associated with increased time on positive pressure ventilation and length of stay in the hospital. SPC may lead to pulmonary edema and should be searched for in VLBW infants with a more complicated course.

Echocardiographic examination with color Doppler performed in premature infants to evaluate left to right shunts should include careful search for systemic to pulmonary collaterals. echocardiography, systemic to pulmonary collaterals, aortopulmonary collaterals, prematurity, pulmonary edema.

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