Vascular Ring

What is a vascular ring?

A vascular ring is a rare heart condition where the aorta, the artery that carries blood from the heart to the body, is formed abnormally. In this condition, the trachea (windpipe) and esophagus are encircled and compressed by a "ring" of blood vessels. This compression can cause breathing and digestive problems.

There are several types of vascular rings. The most common are:

  • Double aortic arch. In this type of ring there are two aortic arches, one on the left side of the heart, one on the right. Typically, one of the arches, usually the right arch, is dominant and the other is small and underdeveloped. The trachea and esophagus are encircled by the two aortic arches.
  • Right aortic arch with aberrant subclavian and left ligamentum. In this type, the aortic arch curves right and the left subclavian artery, which branches from the aortic arch, passes behind the esophagus. The ligamentum arteriosus (a blood vessel remnant) passes between the left subclavian artery and left pulmonary artery, completing the ring.
  • Left aortic arch with aberrant right subclavian artery. In this type, the artery passes behind the trachea, the esophagus compresses from the back or both.

How we care for vascular rings at Boston Children’s Hospital

The Boston Children’s Hospital Heart Center is dedicated to achieving the best possible outcomes from every patient. Our top-ranked team treats a full spectrum of heart conditions, including the rarest and most complex congenital heart defects, such as vascular rings. We work with our colleagues in Boston Children’s Esophageal and Airway Treatment Center to provide collaborative care and, when necessary, surgery for children with vascular rings and airway or esophageal compression.

Our areas of innovation for vascular rings

Surgery to divide the vascular ring was pioneered at Boston Children's Hospital in 1945, with the first successful operation on a child with a double aortic arch. Today, we sometimes perform this procedure using robotic surgery equipment, allowing your child the benefits of minimally invasive surgery and improved surgical precision. We also offer the latest surgical techniques for treating vascular rings.