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What is PPHN?

Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn or PPHN is also referred to as Persistent Fetal Circulation and is very similar to Pulmonary Hypertension in adults.

PPHN is a life-threatening disorder in which the newborn’s arteries to the lungs remain constricted after delivery, limiting the amount of blood flow to the lungs and therefore the amount of oxygen into the bloodstream.  In other words, the newborn’s lungs do not adapt properly to life outside the womb.  When the baby is in the womb, it gets all of its oxygen from the umbilical cord, so the lungs do not need the supply of blood that they require once the baby has been born. 

When the baby is born, the pressure in the lungs falls and there is an increase in blood flow to the lungs.  It is at this point that the baby begins to breathe in its own oxygen, which is to be circulated through the blood via the lungs.  The blood in the baby’s body is pumped into the lungs, where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged.  The oxygen-rich blood is then returned from the lungs back into the heart where it is pumped throughout the rest of the body. 

When a baby develops PPHN, the blood pressure in the lungs remains high after birth, and the ductus arteriosus -- a tiny blood vessel that directs the blood away from the lungs and into the rest of the body before birth; then closes at birth so that the blood is then directed through the lungs where it gets its supply of oxygen after birth -- remains open, allowing the blood to be directed away from the lungs.

PPHN is a rare, but life-threatening condition.  Newborns who have PPHN are typically full-term or near-term infants who are born without associated congenital abnormalities; yet present after birth with severe respiratory failure.  Babies born with this condition often require intubation and mechanical ventilation.  Despite this treatment, 10 to 20 percent of affected infants do not survive.