The aorta is the main artery in the heart. It carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the body. Aortic coarctation is the narrowing of the aorta. This slows or blocks blood flow. It is often associated with other heart and vascular conditions. Examples include abnormal heart valves or aneurysms, which can lead to further health problems.
Anatomy of the Heart
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Aortic coarctation is a congenital heart defect. This means that it is present at birth. It occurs because of a problem with the way the aorta develops while the fetus is growing in the womb.
If your child’s condition is severe, he will have symptoms of impaired blood flow at birth. If aortic coarctation is not treated, it can lead to
If this condition is not detected when your child is a baby, he may have these symptoms during childhood, such as:
- Heart murmur
- High blood pressure
in the arms
- A weak pulse in the legs
- Cold legs and feet
- Shortness of breath, especially with exercise
- Legs that are underdeveloped, but better developed arms
- Chest pain
These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. If your child has any of these, talk to the doctor.
If your child’s condition is not detected at birth, the doctor will ask about his symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done. Tests may include:
- Blood tests
- Chest x-ray
—a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the chest
of the heart—a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the heart
- CT scan
of the heart—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the heart
—a test that uses sound waves (ultrasound) to examine the size, shape, and motion of the heart
- Cardiac catheterization
(rarely needed)—a tube-like instrument inserted into the heart through a vein or artery (usually in the arm or leg) to detect problems with the heart and its blood supply
Talk with the doctor about the best treatment plan for your child. Treatment depends on your child's age and how severe the condition is.
Your newborn will need treatment right away. An IV medicine (given through a vein) called prostaglandin may be given. This drug helps keep blood flowing to all parts of the body. Other medicines may also be used to improve how the heart contracts. One of the most common surgeries involves removing the narrow section of the aorta and reconnecting the two "good" ends.
Your child may need to take water pills to reduce fluid retention. Depending on your child’s condition, the doctor may also recommend surgery. Some of the options include:
- Resection of the narrowed area in the aorta (the same type of surgery used in infants)
- Subclavian flap aortoplasty—involves using a patch or part of the artery to make the area larger
- Balloon angioplasty
—involves using a balloon to widen the narrowed area
It is important to note that there will always be a risk, even into adulthood, of the development of other cardiovascular conditions.
Since this condition is present at birth, there is no way to prevent it.
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. Accessed June 2010.
Cincinnati Children’s. Aortic coarctation. Cincinnati Children’s website. Available at:
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DynaMed Editorial Team. Aortic coarctation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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McCoy K. Aortic coarctation. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/. Updated September 2009. Accessed June 30, 2010.
Rothman A, Galindo A, Evans W, Collazos J, Restrepo H. Effectiveness and safety of balloon dilation of native aortic coarctation in premature and neonates weighing <2,500 grams.
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Vijayalakshmi K, Griffiths A, Hasan A, O'Sullivan J. Late hazards after repair of coarctation of the aorta.
Last reviewed June 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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