Congenital H-type tracheoesophageal fistula: a national multicenter study

Pediatr Surg Int. 2016 May;32(5):487-91. doi: 10.1007/s00383-016-3873-6. Epub 2016 Feb 6.


Background: Congenital H-type tracheoesophageal fistula (TEF) is very rare and represents <5 % of all congenital tracheoesophageal malformations. This is a national, multicenter review of our experience with isolated H-type TEF outlining clinical presentation, methods of diagnosis, associated anomalies, treatment and outcome

Patients and methods: The medical records of all patients with the diagnosis of congenital H-type TEF treated at four pediatric surgery units in Saudi Arabia were retrospectively reviewed for: age at diagnosis, sex, presenting symptoms, associated anomalies, method of diagnosis, treatment and outcome.

Results: During the study period (January 1998-December 2013), 435 infants and children with the diagnosis of esophageal atresia with or without TEF were treated. Among these, 23 (5.3 %) had isolated TEF. There were 11 males and 12 females. Their age at presentation ranged from 5 days to 3 years and 7 months but the majority (90 %) were diagnosed during their first year of life. Their clinical presentation included: chocking and coughing during feeds in 12 (52.2 %), recurrent chest infection in 16 (69.6 %) and cyanosis in 10 (43.5 %). One presented with abdominal distension also. The diagnosis was made using esophagogram. In 11 (47.8 %), a single study confirmed the diagnosis, 8 (34.8 %) required two studies while 4 (17.4 %) required three studies. Nineteen (82.6 %) had preoperative bronchoscopy and in 13 (56.5 %), a catheter was used to cannulate the fistula. All were operated through a right cervical incision except one who underwent thoracoscopic ligation and division of the fistula. In one, the fistula was only transfixed and tied without being divided. This patient developed a recurrent fistula. Two patients developed postoperative stridor secondary to recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy. In both of them, there was complete recovery.

Conclusions: H-type TEF is very rare and commonly presents with recurrent chest infection, chocking and coughing during feeds and cyanosis. Physicians caring for these patients should be aware of this and a high index of suspicion is of paramount importance to avoid delay in diagnosis with its associated morbidity. A contrast esophagogram is valuable in confirming the diagnosis. The study however may need to be repeated. Preoperative bronchoscopy is valuable to localize and cannulate the fistula for easier access during surgery. Surgical repair is the treatment of choice and this should be performed through a right cervical incision or thoracotomy for low fistulae. Thoracoscopic ligation and division of a low H-type fistula is an alternative and less invasive approach when compared to thoracotomy.

Keywords: Bronchoscopy; Esophageal atresia; Esophagogram; H-type tracheoesophageal fistula.

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Saudi Arabia / epidemiology
  • Tracheoesophageal Fistula / diagnosis
  • Tracheoesophageal Fistula / epidemiology*
  • Tracheoesophageal Fistula / surgery