Pulmonary Vein Stenosis | Diagnosis & Treatment

How is pulmonary vein stenosis diagnosed?

Pulmonary vein stenosis is typically diagnosed with one or more of the following procedures:

  • an echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to make a moving picture of the heart’s structure and function
  • cardiac catheterization, which uses a small, flexible tube threaded up to the heart to give very detailed information about the structures within the heart and lungs
  • a computed tomography (CT) scan, a non-invasive procedure using X-ray equipment and powerful computers to produce detailed, cross-sectional images of a particular area of the body (such as the chest cavity)
  • a pulmonary blood flow scan, or lung scan, which uses an injectable dye and a special camera to track the flow of blood through your child’s lungs

What are the treatment options for pulmonary vein stenosis?

Your child's exact treatment plan will be determined by:

  • what other heart or lung problems — if any — they may have
  • symptoms and overall health
  • number of pulmonary veins affected
  • extent of narrowing within the pulmonary veins
  • your family's preferences

In many cases, multiple interventions will be necessary over time, since the narrowing process can recur and become more pronounced even after catheterization or surgery. Children with pulmonary vein stenosis typically need one or more of the following procedures to combat the harmful narrowing process and restore adequate flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart.

Cardiac catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is the use of a thin tube called a catheter that is threaded from a vein or artery into the heart. The catheter can be used to fix holes and structural defects, open narrowed passageways (like those within the pulmonary veins) and create new passageways if needed. The types of interventional catheterization used to treat pulmonary vein stenosis at Boston Children's are balloon dilation and balloon dilation and stent placement.

  • Balloon dilation: The most common interventional catheterization procedure used here at Boston Children's is balloon dilation. With the child under sedation, a small, flexible catheter is inserted into a blood vessel, most often in the groin. Using tiny, highly precise cameras and tools, clinicians guide the catheter up into the inside of the heart and then into the affected areas of the pulmonary veins. A deflated balloon at the tip of the catheter is inflated once the tube is in place, and this balloon stretches the constricted area open, reversing the problematic narrowing.
  • Balloon dilation and stent placement: The effects of balloon dilation can be amplified for some children with pulmonary vein stenosis by using a combination of balloon dilation and the placement of a balloon-expandable stent — a small, stainless steel tube. The stent is attached to the balloon dilation catheter as it is fed into the narrowed parts of the pulmonary veins.

The protective covering is removed when the catheter is in place, and the balloon is then inflated. The balloon affixes the stent within the pulmonary vein, stretching the narrowed area and propping it open.

Children may need several interventional catheterizations over time as they grow, since the narrowing process tends to recur and can become progressively worse.

Open-heart surgery

Some children may need open-heart surgery to sufficiently widen the narrowed areas of the pulmonary veins and allow a return of healthy oxygenated-blood flow from the lungs to the heart. Learn more about heart surgery at Boston Children's.

Lung transplant

In some cases, the extent of damage caused by pulmonary vein stenosis is too great to be reversed and cannot be managed adequately with cardiac catheterization or surgical correction. For these children, a lung transplant to replace the lungs and pulmonary veins may be the only avenue of treatment. Learn more about Boston Children's Lung Transplant Program.