Learning About Coarctation of the Aorta

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What is coarctation of the aorta?

A narrowed aorta

Coarctation of the aorta is a heart problem present at birth. Part of the large blood vessel (aorta) that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body is narrowed or pinched.

What happens when your child has it?

The narrowed aorta causes two kinds of problems.

  • High blood pressure before the pinch in the aorta puts strain on the heart.
  • Low blood pressure after the pinch reduces blood flow to the rest of the body.

What are the symptoms?

Coarctation of the aorta is often diagnosed shortly after birth.

Symptoms may include:

  • Not eating enough breast milk or formula or not gaining weight.
  • Being sleepy or fussy most of the time.
  • Having a hard time breathing.
  • A whooshing or rasping sound made by blood moving through the blood vessels or heart. This sound is called a heart murmur.
  • Heart failure.

Sometimes the child does not have symptoms. Your doctor may find coarctation of the aorta when he or she takes your child's blood pressure or listens to the heart during a routine checkup.

How is coarctation of the aorta treated?

Your doctor will do tests to see where the aorta is pinched or narrowed. Tests can also show how severe the problem is. These tests may include an echocardiogram, MRI scan, or CT scan.

Your doctor will fix the defect with surgery. If your child is premature or small, your doctor may do some surgery soon after birth. More surgery may be done when your child is older.

Repairing the aorta allows the blood to flow the way it should. Treatment options include:

  • Surgery to remove the narrowed part of the aorta and then reattach the ends together.
  • Heart catheterization with a stent. The doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube called a catheter into a large artery. Then he or she threads it through other arteries to the aorta. At the end of the catheter is a small balloon inside a small, expandable tube called a stent. The doctor inflates the balloon. This opens the stent and pushes it against the wall of the aorta to make the aorta wider. When the doctor deflates the balloon and takes the catheter out of the body, the stent stays inside and keeps the aorta open so blood can flow as it should.

After the aorta is repaired, your child has a good chance of living a healthy, normal life. Your child will have regular follow-up visits with the doctor. These are to make sure that your child's blood pressure is normal and the aorta is not narrowing again.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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Current as of: January 27, 2016