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A vascular ring is a defect of the aorta and nearby large vessels. The aorta is the large artery that carries blood from the heart to the body. When the aorta and nearby large vessels form in abnormal positions, the trachea and esophagus can become constricted by the “ring” formed by these abnormal vessels. Examples of this type of defect include:

  • Double aortic arch
  • Right aortic arch

While vascular ring may be detected in infancy, it is often discovered later in life.

Heart and Aortic Arch


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Vascular ring is present at birth. It is not known exactly why the heart does not develop normally.

Risk Factors

Specific risk factors for vascular ring are not known.


Symptoms vary and can range from mild to severe. They may include:

  • Trouble breathing (wheezing, coughing, noisy breathing)
  • Lung infections
  • Poor feeding of solid food (vomiting or choking)
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Acid reflux

These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. If your child has any of these, tell the doctor right away.


Your doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Imaging tests evaluate the heart and other structures. These may include:

An electrocardiogram (EKG) is used to measure the heart's electrical activity.


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for your child. Treatment options include:


The goal of surgery is to divide the vascular ring and relieve compression on the trachea and esophagus. This surgery may even be done if your child has minor symptoms.

Other Treatments

Before surgery, the doctor will treat your child’s symptoms. For example, the doctor will make sure that your child gets proper nutrition if he has swallowing problems. If your child has a bacterial respiratory infection, he will be treated with antibiotics.

Lifelong Monitoring

Your child will have regular exams from a heart specialist.


There is no way to prevent the formation of a vascular ring. Getting appropriate prenatal care is always important.


American Heart Association

Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics


Canadian Cardiovascular Society

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada


Vascular ring in children. Boston Children's Hospital website. Available at: Accessed June 16, 2015.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Vascular rings. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital website. Available at: Updated November 2012. Accessed June 16, 2015.

Johns Hopkins Children's Center website. Vascular ring. Johns Hopkins University, Cove Point Foundation website. Available at: Accessed June 16, 2015.

Last reviewed June 2015 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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