Esophageal atresia is a digestive disorder in which the esophagus does not develop properly. The esophagus is the tube that normally carries food from the mouth to the stomach.
Esophageal atresia (EA) is a congenital defect. This means it occurs before birth. There are several types. In most cases, the upper esophagus ends and does not connect with the lower esophagus and stomach.
Most infants with EA have another defect called tracheoesophageal fistula (TEF). This is an abnormal connection between the esophagus and the windpipe (trachea).
In addition, infants with EA/TEF often have tracheomalacia. This is a weakness and floppiness of the walls of the windpipe, which can cause breathing to sound high-pitched or noisy.
Some babies with EA/TEF have other defects as well, most commonly heart defects.
Symptoms of EA may include:
EA is a surgical emergency. Surgery to repair the esophagus is done as soon as possible after birth so that the lungs are not damaged and the baby can be fed.
Before the surgery, the baby is not fed by mouth and will need intravenous (IV) nutrition. Care is taken to prevent the travel of breathing secretions into the lungs.
An early diagnosis gives a better chance of a good outcome.
The infant may breathe saliva and other fluids into the lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia, choking, and possibly death.
Other complications may include:
Prematurity may complicate the condition. As noted above, there may also be defects in other areas of the body.
This disorder is usually diagnosed shortly after birth.
Call your baby's provider right away if the baby vomits repeatedly after feedings, or if the baby develops breathing difficulties.
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Rothenberg SS. Esophageal atresia and tracheoesophageal fistula malformations. In: Holcomb GW, Murphy JP, St. Peter SD, eds. Holcomb and Ashcraft's Pediatric Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2020:chap 27.
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