The Fontan procedure: anatomy, complications, and manifestations of failure

Radiographics. 2011 Mar-Apr;31(2):453-63. doi: 10.1148/rg.312105027.


The Fontan procedure refers to any operation that results in the flow of systemic venous blood to the lungs without passing through a ventricle. It is performed to treat several complex congenital heart abnormalities including tricuspid atresia, pulmonary atresia with intact ventricular septum, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, and double-inlet ventricle. The original Fontan procedure included direct anastomosis of the right atrium to the main pulmonary artery; however, multiple modifications have been employed. Creation of Fontan circulation is palliative in nature, with good results in patients with ideal hemodynamics and substantial morbidity and mortality in those with poor hemodynamics. Complications of Fontan circulation include exercise intolerance, ventricular failure, right atrium dilatation and arrhythmia, systemic and hepatic venous hypertension, portal hypertension, coagulopathy, pulmonary arteriovenous malformation, venovenous shunts, and lymphatic dysfunction (eg, ascites, edema, effusion, protein-losing enteropathy, and plastic bronchitis). Magnetic resonance imaging is best for postoperative evaluation of patients who underwent the Fontan procedure, and cardiac transplantation remains the only definitive treatment for those with failing Fontan circulation.

MeSH terms

  • Fontan Procedure / adverse effects*
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / complications
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / surgery
  • Heart Diseases / etiology*
  • Heart Diseases / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology*
  • Postoperative Complications / pathology*