KidsMD Health Topics

Esophageal Atresia in Children

  • Esophageal atresia (EA) is a rare birth defect in which a baby is born without part of her esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach). Boston Children's Hospital Esophageal Atresia Treatment Program is one of the only programs in the country specifically designed to care for children with this condition.

    Here’s what you need to know about esophageal atresia:

    • EA frequently occurs along with tracheoesophageal fistula (TEF).

    • Up to half of all babies with EA/TEF have another birth defect, as well.

    • Before treatment, babies are often unable to swallow, can’t feed normally and may have trouble breathing.

    • Although EA can be life-threatening in its most severe forms and cause long-term nutritional concerns, the majority of children fully recover if it’s detected early.

    The best treatment is usually surgery to reconnect the two ends of the baby’s esophagus to each other. In some children, however, so much of the esophagus is missing that the ends can’t be easily connected. This is known as long-gap esophageal atresia.

    How Children’s approaches esophageal atresia

    Traditional surgical procedures for esophageal atresia allow the baby to swallow, but require long-term medical care and monitoring. Children’s Esophageal Atresia Treatment Program is the world’s only center offering a lifelong solution for children with long-gap atresia—the Foker process.

    John Foker, MD, a pediatric surgeon from the University of Minnesota, developed a technique to stimulate the upper and lower ends of the esophagus to make them grow, allowing them to then be joined together.Children's is the only pediatric hospital that offers the Foker process to treat EA and TEF. Foker has worked exclusively with Children’s Russell Jennings, MD to ensure that his successes are continued here in Boston. Learn more about the Foker process or watch our videos.

    In addition to esophageal atresia, our specialists also care for children with:

    • tracheomalacia–weakening of the esophageal walls
    • tracheoesophageal fistula–an abnormal connection between the trachea (windpipe) and esophagus
    • esophageal injury and trauma
    • lye strictures–chemical burn and scarring of the esophagus, caused by ingesting sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide
    • hiatal hernias–a condition in which the upper part of the stomach bulges through an opening in the diaphragm

     

    Esophageal Atresia: Reviewed by Russell W. Jennings, MD
    © Children’s Hospital Boston; posted in 2011

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