Children's Hospital Colorado

Coarctation of the Aorta

What is coarctation of the aorta?

The word "coarctation" means narrowing. Coarctation of the aorta in children is an abnormal narrowing of the aorta, which is the major artery that leaves the heart and delivers oxygenated blood to the rest of the body.

When the aorta is too narrow, the heart must work harder to push the blood past the narrow section, like a kink in a garden hose. This makes the heart push harder and increases the blood pressure in the ventricle. Eventually the increased pressure will cause the heart to enlarge.

The pressure in the aorta past the coarctation, or the kink in the hose, is lower, causing all of the organs and lower extremities of the body to get blood at a much lower pressure than normal.

Coarctation of the aorta can range from mild to severe. The severity of the condition depends on how narrow the aorta is. The more narrow the aorta becomes, the less blood that can pass through to the body and the worse the symptoms may be.

Who gets coarctation of the aorta?

Coarctation of the aorta in children is a congenital condition, meaning a child is born with it. The coarctation forms when a child is developing in the womb. Children with Turner syndrome are at higher risk for coarctation of the aorta. Coarctation of the aorta may be associated with other heart defects like ventricular septal defect (VSD) and aortic stenosis.

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What are symptoms of coarctation of the aorta?

Nearly half the children with coarctation of the aorta will develop visible symptoms within the first few days of life. In some milder cases, symptoms might not be apparent until adolescence.

Coarctation of the aorta symptoms in infants include:

  • Paleness
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Poor weight gain

Symptoms of coarctation of the aorta in older children are:

  • Poor growth
  • High blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Leg cramps
  • Cold feet and legs

If your child has these symptoms, please contact your doctor.

How will my child's doctor diagnose coarctation of the aorta?

Children are usually diagnosed with coarctation of the aorta before they are born or when they are infants. However, in some people, the heart condition might not be discovered until they are adults.

In order to confirm that your child has coarctation of the aorta, your cardiologist will need to do tests to identify its location along the aorta and evaluate its severity. Common tests for this condition are:

After your child is diagnosed, your pediatric cardiologist will develop the best treatment plan for your child. At the Heart Institute at Children's Hospital Colorado, we are dedicated to providing the best cardiac care for your child, along with support for your family.

Treatment options for coarctation of the aorta

Surgery is the most often recommended treatment for coarctation of the aorta. This surgery is performed by a pediatric cardiac surgeon. Depending on the severity of the narrowing, the surgery may be performed in early infancy shortly after birth or in the first few years of life.

Surgical repair is accomplished most often by removing the narrowed area and sewing the two ends of the aorta together.

Occasionally, a child may not be diagnosed until late childhood or adulthood. In older children or adults, a cardiac catheterization procedure may be used to treat the coarctation. During this procedure, the cardiologist will widen the aorta by expanding a balloon in the artery and placing a metal stent in the aorta to keep it open.

After the procedure, your child will stay in the hospital for about 3 to 5 days as our team monitors how he or she is healing.

What to expect from coarctation surgery

After surgery, most children with coarctation of the aorta live healthy, normal lives. However, they will have an increased risk of high blood pressure later in life. Rarely, there is also a chance that the condition might reoccur because of normal growth or heart disease. If this occurs, the coarctation can be repaired again by surgery or by cardiac catheterization.

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