Interatrial shunt flow profiles in 36 normal term infants were examined serially by colour flow and pulsed Doppler echocardiographic techniques from within an hour of birth to four or five days after birth. Shunt flow across the foramen ovale was detected in 33 normal infants (92%) within an hour of birth (mean 40 minutes). The occurrence of interatrial shunting decreased with age, but a shunt signal was still detected in 17 infants (47%) on the fourth or fifth day of life, by then the ductus arteriosus had already closed in all the normal infants. The direction of interatrial shunt flow was predominantly left-to-right, but in 64% there was a coexistent small right-to-left shunt in diastole within an hour of birth; by four to five days it was found in 19%. In the six patients with persistent fetal circulation the direction of the interatrial shunt flow was predominantly right-to-left with biphasic peaks in diastole and systole at the early stage of the disease, and the period of right-to-left shunt flow during each cardiac cycle was significantly longer than that in normal infants examined within 1 hour of birth. In all patients the ductus closed before the foramen ovale. At the time of ductal closure in all patients with persistent fetal circulation right-to-left shunt flow was seen during diastole and its period was still prolonged. These findings suggest that interatrial shunting, predominantly left-to-right, is common in normal newborn infants. Evaluation of the characteristics of the interatrial shunt by Doppler echocardiography may be useful for predicting the progress of or improvement in neonates with persistent fetal circulation.
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