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Aortopulmonary Window Surgery

Updated: Jan 05, 2016
Author: Mary C Mancini, MD, PhD, MMM; Chief Editor: Jonah Odim, MD, PhD, MBA  more...


Aortopulmonary window (APW) is a defect between the great vessels that results from failure of
the conotruncal ridges to fuse. It is separate from truncus arteriosus in that it is associated with
essentially normal aortic and pulmonary valves. The defect usually begins just above the sinuses
of Valsalva and then extends a variable distance distally into the arch. [1]

History of the Procedure

Aortopulmonary window was first described in the 19th century, and the first repair was performed
in 1952 by Robert E. Gross, MD, at Boston Children's Hospital. [2] Subsequent development of
cardiopulmonary bypass techniques simplified the repair. Currently, an incision directly into the
aortopulmonary window or the aorta is used. Most lesions are repaired by direct patch repair of the

Aortopulmonary window produces a large and usually unrestricted left-to-right shunt that worsens
as pulmonary vascular resistance falls during the newborn period. Congestive heart failure and low
cardiac output can rapidly follow. These patients are particularly susceptible to Eisenmenger
syndrome at an early age because of combined systolic and diastolic run-off into the pulmonary
circulation. Aortopulmonary window is frequently associated with other cardiac defects that affect
outcome and complicate repair.


Aortopulmonary window may occur as an isolated lesion or as part of a larger complex of lesions
and represents approximately 0.2% of all congenital cardiac lesions. Two of the largest series
reported, from Boston Children's Hospital and Northwestern University, show that an active center
can expect about 1 case per year. [3]

Aortopulmonary window represents a failure of the conotruncus to differentiate into the aorta and
pulmonary artery. No genetic associations or environmental risk factors are known. The 2
competing embryologic theories are (1) that aortopulmonary window is part of a spectrum of
conotruncal abnormalities, which includes truncus arteriosus at one end of the spectrum, and (2)
that aortopulmonary window is unrelated to truncus arteriosus because the lesions associated
with each defect are so dissimilar.

The hemodynamic abnormalities are similar to those seen with a large, unrestrictive ventricular
septal defect (VSD) or patent ductus arteriosus. Aortopulmonary window is characterized by a
large left-to-right shunt that becomes progressively worse as pulmonary vascular resistance falls
during the newborn period. Volume overload and pulmonary overcirculation lead to progressive left
ventricular dysfunction and congestive heart failure.

The common association of distal arch obstruction or interrupted aortic arch with aortopulmonary
window acts as an obstruction to systemic flow and further increases the left-to-right shunt. [4]
Perfusion to the lower body therefore depends on flow through the ductus arteriosus. Closure of
the ductus results in severe hypoperfusion of the lower body, pulmonary overcirculation, and
impending congestive heart failure.

The presentation depends on the size of the lesion and the systemic and pulmonary vascular
resistances. As discussed above, the presence of obstructive lesions in the distal aorta increases
the severity of symptoms.

Rarely, the lesions are small and restrictive, in which case the symptoms may be mild. More
commonly, however, the defects are nonrestrictive, and the patient presents with congestive heart
failure. Symptoms may include tachypnea, tachycardia, irritability, poor feeding, and lack of weight
gain. If the shunt is sufficiently large, infants may present in severe heart failure with low cardiac
output and severe acidosis.

Physical examination reveals an active precordium with a second heart sound that is accentuated
and not split. A systolic murmur and widened pulse pressure are characteristic.

Patients who present after infancy have a high prevalence of pulmonary vascular hypertension and
a rapid progression to Eisenmenger syndrome within the first years of life. These patients may
present with milder symptoms because of improvement in the left-to-right shunt and decreased
pulmonary overcirculation. Any infant older than approximately 6 months should be considered at
high risk for pulmonary hypertension, and cardiac catheterization should be considered.

For excellent patient education resources, visit eMedicineHealth's Heart Health Center. Also, see
eMedicineHealth's patient education articles Aortic Aneurysm and Congestive Heart Failure.

The presence of an aortopulmonary window (APW) is the only indication necessary for repair.
Spontaneous closure is not known to occur. Delay in repair risks development of pulmonary
vascular hypertension and Eisenmenger syndrome. Therefore, repair should be undertaken at the
time of diagnosis and after initial stabilization.

Relevant Anatomy
Aortopulmonary window (APW) represents a spectrum defined by the distal extension of the
defect. Large defects produce a confluence of the aorta and main pulmonary artery. In these
patients, the branch pulmonary arteries are often abnormally positioned. In particular, the right
pulmonary artery may originate from the aorta. Further distal extension is associated with
interrupted aortic arch (usually type A) and patent ductus arteriosus.

More than half of patients with aortopulmonary window have additional associated lesions. They
range from patent ductus arteriosus and atrial septal defect (ASD) to interrupted aortic arch and
tetralogy of Fallot.

The coronary arteries can arise abnormally. One or both of the coronary arteries may arise from the
area of the confluence or from the pulmonary artery.

The primary contraindications to surgery in patients with aortopulmonary window (APW) are
similar to those in a patient with a large ventricular septal defect (VSD). Ideally, patients should
undergo repair before the onset of pulmonary vascular hypertension. In patients older than 6
months, cardiac catheterization should be considered. If significant pulmonary hypertension is
present, reversibility should be demonstrated by the administration of vasodilators. The presence
of irreversible pulmonary hypertension is a contraindication to repair.