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Coarctation of the Aorta


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jun 2020| Content last modified Jun 2020
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The aorta is the main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

Coarctation is a narrowing of a tube. So coarctation of the aorta is narrowing of the aorta.

What is coarctation of the aorta?

  • Coarctation of the aorta is a birth defect in which part of a baby’s aorta is narrower than it should be

  • A narrow aorta blocks the flow of blood to the lower half of the body, including the kidneys, intestines, liver, and legs

  • The heart works harder to pump blood past the narrowed part of the aorta

  • The extra work by the heart raises blood pressure in the aorta and its branches

  • The high blood pressure increases risk of stroke and can eventually strain the heart, causing heart failure

Often, children with coarctation of the aorta also have heart defects.

What causes coarctation of the aorta?

Babies who have coarctation of the aorta are born with it. Doctors aren't sure why this happens.

What are the symptoms of coarctation of the aorta?

A baby with mild coarctation of the aorta may not have any symptoms.

If coarctation is more severe, your baby may have:

  • Fast breathing or shortness of breath

  • Fast heartbeat

  • Difficulty feeding

  • Gray skin

  • Fewer wet diapers than normal

  • Lethargy (unusual sleepiness and lack of alertness)

  • Heart failure, if coarctation is very severe

If a child gets older and still has coarctation of the aorta, the child may have symptoms such as:

  • Headaches

  • Chest pain

  • Leg pains during exercise

How can doctors tell if my baby has coarctation of the aorta?

Doctors suspect coarctation if they hear a certain type of heart murmur (an unusual sound made by abnormal blood flow). Doctors confirm the diagnosis by:

Doctors will also do:

  • ECG (a painless test that measures the heart’s electrical currents and records them on a piece of paper)

  • Chest x-rays

How do doctors treat coarctation of the aorta?

Treatment depends on how severe the narrowing is, exactly where in the aorta the narrowing is located, and what symptoms it's causing. Doctors may:

  • Give your baby medicines to relieve the strain on the heart

  • Do surgery to fix the narrow part of the aorta

  • Sometimes do angioplasty

Angioplasty is a procedure where doctors put a thin tube (catheter) into your baby’s aorta. They widen the aorta by inflating a balloon inserted in the catheter. Sometimes they insert a wire mesh tube (stent) to hold the narrowed area open.

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