Vascular ring is an abnormal formation of the aorta, the large artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. It is a congenital problem, which means it is present at birth.
The abnormal arrangement of blood vessels creates a ring around the esophagus and the trachea (windpipe). The most common symptoms are stridor (noisy breathing), wheezing, chronic cough, difficulties swallowing or repeat respiratory infections.
Often, these vascular ring symptoms are encountered early on in life. However, in some cases, the symptoms may not be realized or diagnosed until adolescence or adulthood. Varying degrees of symptoms are reported, depending on the type of vascular ring encountered.
Vascular ring is rare. It occurs very early in the baby's development in the womb. Normally, the aorta develops from one of several curved pieces of tissue (arches). The body breaks down some of the remaining arches, while others form into arteries. Some arteries that should break down do not. This causes a vascular ring to form.
Vascular rings are normally treated with congenital heart surgery. Dividing the vascular ring and releasing the compression on the esophagus and the trachea relieves the symptoms. Lingering issues may be present related to underdevelopment of the trachea due to the compression.