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 University of Louisville, 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 skill 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 is often 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 Norton Children’s Heart Institute?

Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the University of Louisville, is a comprehensive pediatric heart surgery, heart failure and heart transplant program serving Kentucky, Southern Indiana and beyond.

The goal of the full-service Norton Children’s Heart Institute is to provide care for the child and the whole family. Our specialists are prepared to repair even the most complex congenital and acquired heart conditions.

Our heart team includes:

  • Pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons
  • Pediatric transplant surgeons
  • Pediatric cardiologists
    • Fetal cardiologists
    • Adult congenital heart cardiologists
    • Heart failure/heart transplant cardiologists
    • Pediatric electrophysiologists
    • Pediatric cardiac catheterization cardiologists
  • Pediatric cardiovascular anesthesiologists
  • Pediatric intensive care physicians
  • Cardiac critical care nurses
  • Critical care pharmacists
  • Family support team
  • Child life specialists
  • Rehabilitation specialists
  • Social workers
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