Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt
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Home / A–Z Services / Fetal Center at Vanderbilt / Fetal Center Services / TE Fistula and Esophageal Atresia
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TE Fistula and Esophageal Atresia


Contact the Fetal Center at (615) 343-4673.

Esophageal Atresia

Photo: “Atrezja.jpg”, Lewis Spitz. Oesophageal atresia. Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases. 2, 24. 2007. CC BY 2.0

What is esophageal atresia?

The esophagus is the swallowing tube that connects the throat to the stomach. If a baby's esophagus does not form properly during pregnancy, a gap is left between the two ends of the esophagus. This conditioxn is called esophageal atresia. Normally, a baby swallows amniotic fluid during pregnancy. This fluid should then pass from the baby's esophagus into the stomach for digestion. If there is an esophageal atresia, this cannot occur. Many times the gap in the esophagus (esophageal atresia) is combined with a condition called tracheoesophageal fistula.

What is tracheoesophageal fistula?

During a normal pregnancy, the esophagus and trachea (windpipe) begin as one tube. At about four to eight weeks after conception, a wall forms inside this tube, dividing it into two tubes. Each of these tubes performs different jThe esophagus is the tube connecting the throat to the stomach for feeding. Ttrachea connects the throat to the lungs for breathing. If this dividing wall does not form properly between these two tubes, an abnormal connection remains between them. In this case, neither tube can function properly. This is called tracheoesophageal fistula, or "TE fistula." TE fistula most often occurs with esophageal atresia. Less commonly, the TE fistula occurs alone.

What causes esophageal atresia?

This birth defect is not believed to be inherited from the baby's parents. However, about half of these babies may have other health problems.

How is esophageal atresia detected?

These birth defects are occasionally detected before birth, but many are only discovered shortly after birth. Because the swallowed amniotic fluid may not make it into the stomach, the amount of amniotic fluid around the baby may increase (called polyhydramnios). If this occurs and the baby's stomach is hard to see on ultrasound, your obstetrician may suspect esophageal atresia.

How does esophageal atresia affect my baby's health?

Your baby will require one or more operations after she/he is born to correct the problem. The number and type of surgery/ies will depend on the distance between the two ends of the esophagus and whether or not the baby has other health problems.

What will happen after birth?

If your baby is suspected to have esophageal atresia, all oral feedings are withheld and intravenous fluids are started. Tests will be done to determine the type of esophageal atresia and to look for other problems. He/she will need surgery to close the abnormal connections. These babies rarely need emergency surgery. Sometimes esophageal atresia requires more than one surgery.

Contact the Fetal Center at (615) 343-4673.

Last Edited: September 9, 2016
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