tetralogy of fallot
Heart and Vascular

Tetralogy of Fallot: What Is It, and Can You Still Be Active?

Feb 8 2018
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From the luge tracks and the curling sheet to the skating rink and slopes, the Winter Olympics are packed with invigorating events that take place against beautiful, snowy backdrops. If you’re getting ready to tune in this year, you might be looking forward to seeing Shaun White’s familiar face hitting the halfpipe.

This superstar athlete helped snowboarding skyrocket into the mainstream. But he’s also bringing awareness to a heart problem that often goes unnoticed. White was born with a heart defect known as Tetralogy of Fallot, which makes his snowboarding achievements even more impressive. If you share Shaun White’s heart condition or know someone who does, it helps to learn more about Tetralogy of Fallot.

What is Tetralogy of Fallot?

Tetralogy of Fallot is a group of four heart defects that a person is born with. The word “tetralogy” refers to something that has four parts. Instead of growing typically, some areas of the person’s heart don’t form properly before they’re born. The four defects associated with Tetralogy of Fallot are:

  • An overriding aorta, which means a large blood vessel coming out of your heart grows in the wrong place.
  • Right ventricular hypertrophy, which means the muscle walls on the right side of your heart are thicker than they should be.
  • A ventricular septal defect, which is a hole in the muscle wall that separates the bottom two chambers of your heart.
  • Pulmonary valve stenosis, which means a valve between your heart and lungs is narrower than it should be.

Although doctors aren’t sure what causes this condition, a variety of things can increase the likelihood of being born with it. Tetralogy of Fallot is often diagnosed when people are still babies or toddlers. However, it’s possible for the defects to go unnoticed until a person becomes an adult. Common symptoms include:

  • Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • Blue skin due to not getting enough oxygen in your blood
  • Getting tired quickly during exercise or activity
  • Feeling irritable
  • Rounded or bulbous fingertips
  • Inability to gain weight
  • Fainting or seizures

No matter when a doctor diagnoses Tetralogy of Fallot, it’s almost always necessary for the person with the condition to have surgery to fix it. Fortunately, almost all people who are born with these defects go on to lead healthy, long lives after surgery.

Can you still be active with Tetralogy of Fallot?

Shaun White’s career is a great indicator! You can certainly stay active when you have Tetralogy of Fallot. If you’ve had surgery to repair the defects at any point in your life — and if your heart valves aren’t leaky — it’s likely you can enjoy normal exercise without risking your health. However, it’s also crucial that you talk to your heart specialist about the types of activities you can participate in. Aerobic exercises like walking, swimming, bicycling and rowing are usually safe activities for people with Tetralogy of Fallot.

If you have Tetralogy of Fallot, it’s important to have a heart doctor you can trust. Visit us today at mercy.com to make an appointment with a heart specialist, or visit one of our primary care providers to discuss how you can enjoy a healthier, more active lifestyle while living with this condition.

Did you know that February is American Heart Month? For more heart health stories like how stress affects your heart and what a heart murmur is, be sure to check out our Heart and Vascular category, or sign up to receive news to your inbox below:


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