A vascular ring is a defect of the aorta and nearby large vessels. The aorta is the large artery that carries blood from the heart to the body. Sometimes, the aorta and nearby large vessels form in unusual positions. The trachea and esophagus can become pressed by the “ring” formed by these vessels. The defect can be:

  • Double aortic arch
  • Right aortic arch

It may be found when a child is a baby, but it is often found later in life.

Heart and Aortic Arch

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Vascular ring is present at birth. It is not known why the heart forms this way.

Risk Factors

The risk factors are not known.


Symptoms vary and can range from mild to severe. A child may have:

  • Problems breathing
  • Difficulty eating solid foods
  • Trouble swallowing


You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

Pictures may be taken of the heart and other structures. This can be done with:

An electrocardiogram (EKG) is used to measure the heart's electrical activity.


Children with symptoms will need surgery. The goal of surgery is to divide the vascular ring. This will ease pressure on the trachea and esophagus.

Lifelong monitoring will be needed by a heart specialist.


There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.


American Heart Association

Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics


Canadian Cardiovascular Society

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada


Licari A, Manca E, et al. Congenital vascular rings: a clinical challenge for the pediatrician. Pediatr Pulmonol. 2015 May;50(5):511-524.

Vascular ring in children. Boston Children's Hospital website. Available at: Accessed November 5, 2020.

Vascular rings. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital website. Available at: Accessed November 5, 2020.

Vascular rings and slings. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed November 5, 2020.

Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD  Last Updated: 5/12/2020