Know the basics
What is coarctation of the aorta?
The aorta is an important large blood vessel attached to the left side of the heart. Other medium-sized blood vessels branch from the aorta. They take blood and oxygen to the body. Coarctation is an abnormal narrowing of the aorta, usually in the part just past the place where blood vessels to the head and arms branch off.
If coarctation is not treated, it can lead to complications, such as high blood pressure, heart attack, heart failure, or stroke.
How common is coarctation of the aorta?
This rare congenital heart defect is present before birth but may not be found until later. When coarctation is founded may depend on how much the narrowing is. Coarctation can be treated but it needs follow up after treatments.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of coarctation of the aorta?
The symptoms of coarctation does not appear in the early stage. As the narrowing get worse, symptoms may show up. Symptoms that develop include:
- dizzy spells;
- chest pain;
- cold legs;
- leg cramps (especially with exercise);
If the aorta is too narrowing for blood to pass through, the blood goes through other vessels (collaterals) instead of the narrow aorta. These vessels get larger, and the doctor may feel or see pulsations in the back.
There may be some signs or symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
Coarctation of the aorta is a birth disease and may have no symptoms at first. You should contact your doctor if you have any chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting or high blood pressure. This means your condition is getting worse.
Know the causes
What causes coarctation of the aorta?
This rare congenital heart defect is present before birth but may not be found until later. Other heart defects, including bicuspid aortic valve and ventricular septal defect, may be present.
In bicuspid aortic valve, the valve has two flaps instead of three. In ventricular septal defect, the middle dividing wall of the heart has a hole.
In some rare cases, coarctation of the aorta can happen after sever injury caused by accident. Atherosclerosis or arteritis may also cause coarctation.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for coarctation of the aorta?
There are many risk factors for coarctation of the aorta, such as:
- Bicuspid aortic valve;
- Ventricular septal defect;
- Other heart defects.
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is coarctation of the aorta diagnosed?
The doctor makes a diagnosis from symptoms: heart murmur, high blood pressure (higher in arms than legs), and weak pulses in the groin, legs, and feet.
Tests include electrocardiography (ECG), chest x-ray, echo-cardiography, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and cardiac
catheterization with aortography.
How is coarctation of the aorta treated?
Drugs may be used for high blood pressure, but surgery is usually needed. This major procedure can involve a hospital stay of several days.
Surgery can remove the narrow part and join two normal parts. Another option is using patches or grafts made of special material to replace the abnormal part. Sometimes a flap of tissue from an artery can be used to widen the narrow part.
Another treatment is balloon dilation. A small device (balloon) is slowly pumped up to widen the narrow part. Sometimes a small tube (stent) is left in the vessel to keep it open. This treatment leaves no large scar and has a faster recovery.
Because a vessel may get narrow again, follow-up visits with a heart specialist are recommended. That way, a narrowing can
be found early and treated.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage coarctation of the aorta?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with coarctation of the aorta:
- Ask your doctor about the kind and amount of exercise you should do.
- Take medicines prescribed by your doctor.
- Don’t ignore any symtomps or any complications as you may need special treatment.
- Don’t forget to go for regular follow-up checkups. Have your blood pressure checked regularly, even after treatment.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Ferri, Fred. Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders / Elsevier, 2012. Download version.
Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017