What is the definition of Transposition of the Great Arteries?

Transposition of the great arteries (TGA) is a heart defect that occurs from birth (congenital). The two major arteries that carry blood away from the heart -- the aorta and the pulmonary artery -- are switched (transposed).

What are the alternative names for Transposition of the Great Arteries?

d-TGA; Congenital heart defect - transposition; Cyanotic heart disease - transposition; Birth defect - transposition; Transposition of the great vessels; TGV

What are the causes for Transposition of the Great Arteries?

The cause of TGA is unknown. It is not associated with any one common genetic abnormality. It rarely occurs in other family members.

TGA is a cyanotic heart defect. This means there is decreased oxygen in the blood that is pumped from the heart to the rest of the body.

In normal hearts, blood that returns from the body goes through the right side of the heart and pulmonary artery to the lungs to get oxygen. The blood then comes back to the left side of the heart and travels out the aorta to the body.

In TGA, venous blood returns normally to the heart through the right atrium. But, instead of going to the lungs to absorb oxygen, this blood is pumped out through the aorta and back to the body. This blood has not been recharged with oxygen and leads to cyanosis.

Symptoms appear at birth or very soon afterward. How bad the symptoms are depends on the type and size of additional heart defects (such as atrial septal defect, ventricular septal defect, or patent ductus arteriosus) and how much the blood can mix between the two abnormal circulations.

What are the symptoms for Transposition of the Great Arteries?

Symptoms may include:

  • Blueness of the skin
  • Clubbing of the fingers or toes
  • Poor feeding
  • Shortness of breath

What are the current treatments for Transposition of the Great Arteries?

The initial step in treatment is to allow oxygen-rich blood to mix with poorly oxygenated blood. The baby will immediately receive a medicine called prostaglandin through an IV (intravenous line). This medicine helps keep a blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus open, allowing some mixing of the two blood circulations. In some cases, an opening between the right and left atrium can be created with procedure using a balloon catheter. This allows blood to mix. This procedure is known as balloon atrial septostomy.

Permanent treatment involves heart surgery during which the great arteries are cut and stitched back to their correct position. This is called an arterial switch operation (ASO). Prior to the development of this surgery, a surgery called an atrial switch (or Mustard procedure or Senning procedure) was used.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Transposition of the Great Arteries?

The child's symptoms will improve after surgery to correct the defect. Most infants who undergo arterial switch do not have symptoms after surgery and live normal lives. If corrective surgery is not performed, the life expectancy is only months.

What are the possible complications for Transposition of the Great Arteries?

Complications may include:

  • Coronary artery problems
  • Heart valve problems
  • Irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias)

When should I contact a medical professional for Transposition of the Great Arteries?

This condition can be diagnosed before birth using a fetal echocardiogram. If not, it is most often diagnosed soon after a baby is born.

Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if your baby's skin develops a bluish color, especially in the face or trunk.

Call your provider if your baby has this condition and new symptoms develop, get worse, or continue after treatment.

How do I prevent Transposition of the Great Arteries?

Women who plan to become pregnant should be immunized against rubella if they are not already immune. Eating well, avoiding alcohol, and controlling diabetes both before and during pregnancy may be helpful.

Heart - section through the middle
Heart - front view
Transposition of the great vessels

REFERENCES

Bernstein D. Cyanotic congenital heart disease: evaluation of the critically ill neonate with cyanosis and respiratory distress. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 456.

Fraser CD, Kane LC. Congenital heart disease. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery: The Biological Basis of Modern Surgical Practice. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 58.

Webb GD, Smallhorn JF, Therrien J, Redington AN. Congenital heart disease in the adult and pediatric patient. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 75.