A Prospective Management Strategy for Heterotaxy Syndrome with Intestinal Rotation Abnormalities: Imaging does not predict need for surgery


      • Screening and management practices of intestinal rotational abnormalities in heterotaxy syndrome are debated.
      • Watchful waiting in a multidisciplinary pathway permits safe and close follow-up with intervention when clinically indicated.



      Heterotaxy syndrome (HS) affects right-left anatomical development in 3% of children with congenital heart disease. Commonly, these patients have intestinal rotation abnormalities (IRA) that differ from typical malrotation. In this prospective study, we examine the development of a management pathway, imaging findings, and clinical course of patients with HS and IRA.


      After literature review, a multispecialty focus group designed a pathway for HS. Participants from a single institution were prospectively enrolled from 2016 to 2019. They underwent an abdominal ultrasound and UGI, however timing was variable based on symptoms. Symptomatic IRA was defined as feeding intolerance, bilious or non-bilious vomiting, bloating, severe reflux, and intermittent pain or abdominal distention. Screening for symptoms occurred every three months for the first two years and then annually.


      18 participants were followed for a median of 5.0 years. Three clinical categories were identified: 1) asymptomatic, not requiring intestinal surgery, 72.2%, 2) symptomatic with feeding intolerance or failure to thrive requiring gastrostomy placement and diagnostic laparoscopy with Ladd procedure, 16.7%, and 3) symptomatic requiring urgent exploration for suspicion of volvulus, 11.1%. Need for surgery did not necessarily correlate with US and/or UGI findings.


      In children with HS and IRA, postnatal imaging did not inform the need for intestinal surgery. Although rare, volvulus or other forms of proximal obstruction can be anticipated, and symptomatic patients should be offered surgical intervention. A multidisciplinary care pathway for patients with HS and IRA can coordinate care and help counsel families on the likelihood of needing intestinal surgery for IRA.


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