Coarctation of the Aorta

The aorta is a major blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Coarctation of the aorta means that the aorta has a section that is too narrow. Coarctation of aorta in infants forces the left side of the heart to work harder to pump blood through the narrowed aorta.

If your child has this condition, the narrowing might be minor and not even cause symptoms. If it is severe, your child might need surgery or other procedures to treat it. The heart specialists at Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, will determine the right treatment for your child.

As the leading providers of pediatric heart care in Louisville and Southern Indiana, our specialists are experienced with successfully repairing coarctation of the aorta in infants.

The board-certified and fellowship-trained specialists at Norton Children’s Heart Institute have the skills and experience to provide a pinpoint diagnosis and develop a customized treatment plan for you and your child.

A baby with coarctation of the aorta is born with the defect. Babies who have coarctation of the aorta might also have a hypoplastic aortic arch, which means that the arch is smaller than usual. The cause of coarctation of aorta in infants is unclear, but boys are almost twice as likely to have it than girls.

The good news is that children treated for coarctation of the aorta at Norton Children’s Heart Institute can expect to lead a normal life after treatment.

Usually, doctors find coarctation of the aorta early. In cases when the condition isn’t diagnosed until later in life, it’s usually because the defect wasn’t severe enough to cause serious symptoms. Coarctation of the aorta doesn’t go away on its own and the defect can eventually cause health issues, so treatment is required even for those who don’t have symptoms.

An illustration shows coarctation of aorta in infants

Symptoms of Coarctation of the Aorta in Infants

Often, kids don’t have any symptoms and the narrowed aorta is discovered during a regular visit to the doctor. The first sign of coarctation of the aorta often is abnormal blood pressure. During a physical exam, a doctor might find that a child has higher blood pressure in the arms than in the legs. The doctor might hear a heart murmur or notice that the pulse in the groin is weak or hard to feel. Any person diagnosed with high blood pressure should be checked for coarctation of the aorta.

Kids who have symptoms might have:

  • Cold legs and feet
  • Shortness of breath, especially when exercising
  • Chest pain

Coarctation of the Aorta Diagnosis

A doctor who suspects that a child has a narrowed aorta may refer the child to a pediatric cardiologist. The cardiologist will listen to the heart, feel the pulse at different points on the body and check blood pressure.

At Norton Children’s Heart Institute, your cardiologist might order an echocardiogram, a test that uses sound waves to create a video of the heart and its circulation. The cardiologist might also order other tests that produce images of the heart, such as a chest X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test or computed tomography (CT) scan.

Narrowing of the aorta must be treated quickly because it can cause high blood pressure and enlarge the heart. Norton Children’s Heart Institute specialists may repair a coarctation immediately if the condition is found shortly after birth.

Treating Coarctation of the Aorta in Infants

The condition can be repaired with surgery. One of the most common ways to fix a coarctation is to remove the narrow section and reconnect the two ends of the aorta where it was cut.

In some cases, doctors may perform a less invasive procedure called a balloon angioplasty. With this procedure, Norton Children’s Heart Institute specialists thread tiny tools through a blood vessel in the leg. Once the tools reach the aorta, an attached balloon is inflated to widen the passage. The balloon is then removed. The cardiologist may implant a device called a stent to hold open the widened aorta.

Kids and teens who have had surgery often feel better after a week or two. Those who have balloon angioplasty feel better within a couple of days.

Kids who have had a coarctation of the aorta repaired will need to see their doctors regularly. Sometimes, the narrowing returns after surgery or balloon treatment. Visits to the cardiologist every year or two will let the doctor look for signs that the condition has returned.

Why Choose Norton Children’s Heart Institute

The Adult Congenital Heart Association has recognized Norton Children's Heart Institute for its expertise treating adult congenital heart disease.

  • Norton Children’s Hospital has been a pioneer in pediatric cardiothoracic surgery, performing Kentucky’s first pediatric heart transplant in 1986 and becoming the second site in the United States to perform an infant heart transplant.
  • The American Board of Thoracic Surgery has certified our cardiothoracic surgeons in congenital heart surgery.
  • The Adult Congenital Heart Association has accredited Norton Children’s Heart Institute’s Adult Congenital Heart Program as the only comprehensive care center in Kentucky and Indiana treating adults born with a heart defect.
  • More than 5,000 children a year visit Norton Children’s Heart Institute for advanced heart care.
  • Norton Children’s Heart Institute has offices across Kentucky and Southern Indiana to bring quality pediatric heart care closer to home.
  • The Jennifer Lawrence Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) at Norton Children’s Hospital is the largest dedicated CICU in Kentucky, equipped with 17 private rooms and the newest technology available for heart care.
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