Coarctation of the aorta

Coarctation (ko-ahrk-TAY-shun) of the aorta — or aortic coarctation — is a narrowing of the aorta, the large blood vessel that branches off your heart and delivers oxygen-rich blood to your body. When this occurs, your heart must pump harder to force blood through the narrow part of your aorta.

Coarctation of the aorta is generally present at birth (congenital). Coarctation of the aorta may range from mild to severe, and may not be detected until adulthood, depending on how narrowed the aorta is.

Coarctation of the aorta often occurs along with other heart defects. While treatment for coarctation of the aorta is usually successful, it's a condition that requires careful follow-up through infancy and throughout adulthood.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Coarctation of the aorta symptoms depend on the seriousness of the condition. Children with serious aortic narrowing tend to show signs and symptoms earlier in life, while mild cases may not be diagnosed until adulthood.

Babies with severe coarctation of the aorta usually begin having signs and symptoms shortly after birth. These include:

  • Pale skin
  • Irritability
  • Heavy sweating
  • Difficulty breathing

Left untreated, aortic coarctation in babies may lead to heart failure and death.

Older children and adults with the condition often don't have symptoms, because they tend to have less severe narrowing of the aorta. If signs or symptoms appear, the most common sign is high blood pressure (hypertension) measured in the arm. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath, especially during exercise
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Leg cramps or cold feet
  • Nosebleeds

When to see a doctor

Seek medical help if you or your child has the following signs or symptoms:

  • Severe chest pain
  • Fainting
  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Unexplained high blood pressure

While experiencing these signs or symptoms doesn't necessarily mean that you have a serious problem, it's best to get checked out quickly. Early detection and treatment may help save your life.

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