Total anomalous pulmonary venous return

Total anomalous pulmonary venous return is a congenital heart disease (present at birth) in which none of the four veins that take blood from the lungs to the heart is attached to the left atrium (left upper chamber of the heart).


The cause of total anomalous pulmonary venous return (TAPVR) is unknown.

In normal circulation, blood is sent from the right ventricle to pick up oxygen in the lungs. It then returns through the pulmonary veins to the left side of the heart, which sends blood out through the aorta, and around the body.

In TAPVR, oxygenated blood returns from the lungs back to the right atrium or a vein flowing into the right atrium and NOT to the left side of heart. In other words, blood simply circles to and from the lungs and never gets out to the body.

If the infant is to live, a large atrial septal defect (ASD) or patent foramen ovale (passage between the left and right atria) must exist to allow oxygenated blood to flow to the left side of the heart and rest of the body.

The severity of this condition depends on whether the pulmonary veins are obstructed. Most often in obstructed TAVPR, the pulmonary veins run into the abdomen, passing through a muscle (diaphragm). This muscle squeezes the veins and narrows them, causing the blood to back up into the lungs. This type causes symptoms early in life and can be rapidly deadly if not recognized and surgically corrected.


The infant may appear to be critically ill and may display the following symptoms:

  • Lethargy
  • Poor feeding
  • Rapid breathing
  • Poor growth
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Cyanosis (blue discoloration of the skin)

Note: Sometimes, no symptoms may be present in infancy or early childhood.

Exams and Tests

  • ECG shows signs of enlargement of the ventricles (ventricular hypertrophy).
  • X-ray of the chest shows a normal to small heart with fluid in the lungs.
  • Echocardiogram usually defines the attachment of pulmonary vessels.
  • Cardiac catheterization can provide definitive diagnosis by showing abnormal attachments of the blood vessels.
  • MRI of the heart can show the connections between the pulmonary vessels.


Early complete surgical repair is needed. In surgery, the pulmonary veins are connected to the left atrium and the defect between the right and left atrium is closed.

Outlook (Prognosis)

If left untreated, death may occur by age 1 in babies with more severe defects. With surgery, early repair provides excellent results if there is no blockage of the pulmonary veins at the new connection into the heart.

Possible Complications

  • Heart failure
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Lung infections
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Irregular, fast heart rhythms (arrhythmias)

When to Contact a Medical Professional

This condition may be apparent at the time of birth. However, symptoms may not be present until later.

Call your health care provider if you notice symptoms of TAPVR -- prompt attention is required.


There is no known way to prevent TAPVR.

Alternative Names