Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF)
What is tetralogy of Fallot (TOF)?
Tetralogy of Fallot is a congenital heart defect. It has four characteristics:
- Ventricular septal defect (VSD): a hole between the two bottom chambers (the ventricles) of the heart that sends blood to the body and lungs.
- Overriding aorta: the aorta, the large artery that takes blood to the body, is on top of both ventricles, instead of just the left ventricle as in a normal heart.
- Pulmonary stenosis : a narrowing of the pulmonary valve, the area below the valve, or the pulmonary arteries, which carry blood from the heart to the lungs.
- Hypertrophy: the right ventricle becomes thicker and more muscular than normal as a result of working harder to pump blood through the narrow pulmonary valve.
Learn more about tetralogy of Fallot from the experts at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Cardiac Center in this video series.
Signs and symptoms of tetralogy of Fallot
The symptoms of tetralogy of Fallot include:
- Blue or purple tint to lips, skin and nails (cyanosis)
- Heart murmur: the heart sounds abnormal when a doctor listens to it with a stethoscope
- In older children, abnormal shape of the fingertips ("clubbing")
- Spells during which oxygen levels drop: lips and skin will become bluer, and the child will become fussy or irritable and then sleepy or unresponsive
Some children with a more severe form of tetralogy of Fallot may also develop pulmonary atresia, a condition in which the pulmonary valve has not formed correctly, is sealed or cannot open properly.
Testing and diagnosis of TOF
Another common time for diagnosis of tetralogy of Fallot is after birth, but before your newborn leaves the hospital. A doctor may hear a heart murmur or see a blue tint to the skin while examining your child before discharge.
After your child leaves the hospital, two other common times TOF may be suspected is:
- During a routine newborn checkup with your baby’s primary care pediatrician
- At home by a parent or relative who notices a blue tint to the baby’s pallor, abnormal-shaped fingers, an irregular heartbeat or excessive irritability
Diagnosis of tetralogy of Fallot may require some or all of these tests:
- Pulse oximetry: a painless way to monitor the oxygen content of the blood
- Electrocardiogram (ECG): a record of the electrical activity in the heart
- Echocardiogram (also called "echo" or ultrasound): sound waves create an image of the internal structure of the heart
- Chest X-ray
- Cardiac MRI: a three-dimensional image that shows the heart's abnormalities
- Cardiac catheterization: a thin tube (catheter) is inserted into the heart through a large vein in the leg, and guided to the heart to “see” internal structures and potentially treat any narrowing or blockages
A number of children with TOF also have genetic syndromes such as DiGeorge syndrome, Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome), Alagille syndrome or chromosome 22q11.2 deletion syndrome. Genetic testing (a blood test) may be part of an evaluation.
Treatment for tetralogy of Fallot
Surgery is required to repair tetralogy of Fallot. At Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) we typically perform open-heart surgery in the first few months of life to patch the hole (ventricle septal defect) in the heart and widen the pulmonary valve or artery.
In some cases -- depending on the unique needs of the patient – we will perform a temporary repair until a complete repair can be done. The temporary repair involves connecting the pulmonary arteries (which carry blood from heart to lungs) with one of the large arteries that carry blood away from the heart to the body. This increases the amount of blood that reaches the lungs, and so increases the amount of oxygen in the blood.
After surgery, your child will initially recover in the Evelyn and Daniel M. Tabas Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU), where they will receive around-the-clock attention from a team of dedicated cardiac critical care medicine specialists and specialty trained nurses and support staff. As your child’s condition improves, they will be transferred to the Cardiac Care Unit and then discharged home.
Outlook for Tetralogy of Fallot
See Long-Term Outcomes
Today, because of enormous strides in medicine and technology, most children with heart conditions such as tetralogy of Fallot go on to lead healthy, productive lives as adults. Some children with TOF will experience heart problems later in life, including a leaky heart valve and/or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). Medication or repeat surgery by be needed.
Follow-up care for TOF
Through age 18
Children who have had surgical repair of tetralogy of Fallot, will require lifelong care by a cardiologist. At CHOP, our pediatric cardiologists follow patients until they are young adults, coordinating care with the child’s primary care physician. Patients will need to carefully follow their doctors' advice, including continuing any prescribed medications and, in some cases, limiting exercise.
Adults born with tetralogy of Fallot must continue to see a cardiologist throughout their lives. CHOP’s Cardiac Center can help with the transition to an adult cardiologist.
The Philadelphia Adult Congenital Heart Center, a joint program of CHOP and Penn Medicine, meets the unique needs of adults who were born with heart defects like TOF.
Reviewed by Chitra Ravishankar, MD