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Coarctation of the Aorta

The aorta is the main artery of the body. It sends oxygen rich blood to the circulatory system. Coarctation of the aorta is a birth defect in which the aorta is pinched or constricted. This obstructs blood flow to the lower part of the body and increases blood pressure above the constriction.

Usually there are no symptoms at birth, but they can develop as early as the first week after birth and may be discovered by your baby’s doctor during a first exam or well-baby checkup. A baby may develop congestive heart failure or high blood pressure that requires early surgery. Otherwise, surgery usually can be delayed. A child with a severe coarctation should have surgery in early childhood.

The outlook after surgery is favorable, but long-term follow-up is required. Occasionally, coarctation of the aorta may recur. Some of these cases can be treated by balloon angioplasty. The long-term results of this procedure are still being studied. Also, blood pressure may stay high even when the aorta's narrowing has been repaired.

Your child may have symptoms that include:

  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Cold legs or feet
  • The inability to exercise and leg cramps caused by exercise
  • Failure to thrive (not meeting typical growth standards)
  • Nosebleeds
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath

Both before and after treatment, people with coarctation of the aorta are at risk for getting an infection within the aorta or the heart valves (endocarditis). To help prevent this, they'll need to take antibiotics before certain dental and surgical procedures.