Esophageal atresia is a congenital medical condition (birth defect) which affects the alimentary tract. It causes the esophagus to end in a blind-ended pouch rather than connecting normally to the stomach. It occurs in approximately 1 in 4425 live births. more...
This condition takes several different forms, often involving one or more fistulas connecting the trachea to the esophagus (tracheoesophageal fistula). Approximately 85% of affected babies will have a 'lower fistula'.
This birth defect arises in the fourth fetal week, when the trachea and esophagus should begin to separate from each other. Other birth defects may co-exist, particularly in the heart, but sometimes also in the anus, spinal column, or kidneys.
This condition is visible some time shortly before birth on an ultrasound, or it may be detected soon after birth as the affected infant will be unable to swallow its own saliva. Any attempt at feeding could cause aspiration pneumonia as the milk collects in the blind pouch and overflows into the trachea and lungs. Furthermore, a fistula between the lower esophagus and trachea may allow stomach acid to flow into the lungs and cause damage. Because of these dangers, the condition must be treated as soon as possible after birth.
Treatments for the condition vary depending on its severity. The most immediate and effective treatment in the majority of cases is a surgical repair to close the fistula/s and reconnect the two ends of the esophagus to each other. This is not possible in all cases, since the gap between upper and lower esophageal segments may be too long to bridge. In this situation, a gastrostomy is performed, allowing tube feedings into the stomach through the abdominal wall, and often a cervical esophagostomy will also be done, to allow the saliva which is swallowed to drain out a hole in the neck. Months or years later, the esophagus may be repaired, sometimes by using a segment of bowel brought up into the chest, interposing between the upper and lower segments of esophagus.
Post operative complications sometimes arise, including a leak at the site of closure of the esophagus. Sometimes a stricture, or tight spot, will develop in the esophagus, making it difficult to swallow. This can usually be dilated using medical instruments. In later life, most children with this disorder will have some trouble with either swallowing or heartburn or both.
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