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Pediatric Coarctation of the Aorta

Specialists at The Heart Center expertly diagnose and treat mild to severe cases of coarctation of the aorta in children of all ages. Our doctors are highly experienced in identifying and treating this congenital heart disease, so your child can get back to being a kid.

What is Pediatric Coarctation of the Aorta?

Coarctation of the aorta is a congenital heart disease, which means a child is born with it. A child with coarctation of the aorta has a narrowing in the body’s main blood vessel (the aorta). This narrowing restricts the flow of blood with oxygen to the lower body.

Some children develop symptoms in infancy, while others learn they have the condition later in childhood or the teen years. When the aorta is too narrow, the heart has to work harder to circulate blood. Without surgical treatment, a child may experience:

What are the signs and symptoms of Pediatric Coarctation of the Aorta?

Coarctation of the aorta doesn’t always cause noticeable symptoms, especially early in life. If an infant has a severely narrowed aorta, these symptoms may occur:

  • Breathing problems
  • Difficulty eating and poor weight gain
  • Excessive sweating
  • Extreme fussiness or irritability
  • Pale or gray-looking skin

High blood pressure is often the main symptom of coarctation of the aorta in an older child or teenager. A child with hypertension may complain of headaches or get frequent nose bleeds. Other signs of coarctation of the aorta in a child or teen include:

  • Chest pain
  • Cold feet or legs
  • Leg cramps during exercise
  • Poor growth
  • Shortness of breath

How is Pediatric Coarctation of the Aorta diagnosed?

Because of our doctors’ deep expertise diagnosing this condition in children, we often make a diagnosis based on a physical examination to check blood pressure, heart murmurs (unusual heart sounds) and other symptoms.

We use advanced cardiac imaging to confirm the coarctation of aorta diagnosis and determine the severity of the aortic narrowing. Your child may get one or more of these tests:

What causes Pediatric Coarctation of the Aorta?

Like most congenital heart defects, researchers are still trying to figure out why some children develop this condition. Heart defects are not brought on by anything a woman does – or doesn’t do – during pregnancy.

Children with a rare chromosomal disorder called Turner syndrome are more likely to have coarctation of the aorta. Turner syndrome only affects girls. If your child has Turner syndrome, our heart specialists work with the Turner syndrome specialists at Children’s Health℠ to meet all your child’s healthcare needs.

How is Pediatric Coarctation of the Aorta treated?

A child with coarctation of the aorta needs treatment to open up the narrowed section of the aorta. Treatment depends on how much of the aorta is affected and the severity of the narrowing.

Nearly all infants and young children need heart surgery to correct this condition. Your child’s doctor will determine the best surgical approach based on your child’s unique heart condition and structure.

Most children with coarctation need surgery. The incision is most commonly made under the left arm. The narrowed part of the aorta is removed, and the two ends are sewn together to rebuild the aorta. In some patients who have a relatively long area of narrowing, the incision is made on the front of the chest and a heart-lung machine is used to reconstruct the aorta (open heart surgery). Many patients who have other heart problems such as a ventricular septal defect need open heart surgery to repair these problems.

Aortic coarctation in older children and teenagers can sometimes be treated during a procedure in the cardiac catheterization lab. Our doctors pass a small tube (catheter) with a balloon on the end from a blood vessel in the upper leg up to the region of the coarctation. Once in place, the balloon is inflated and expands the narrowed aorta. We may also place a stent (small mesh tube) to keep the aorta open.

Pediatric Coarctation of the Aorta Doctors and Providers

Your child receives exceptional care at Children’s Health Heart Center. Our team of heart specialists work together to diagnose and treat all types of heart defects.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is coarctation of the aorta?

    Coarctation of the aorta is one of the more common congenital heart diseases. Approximately 2,200 babies are born with this heart defect every year. The condition affects 4 out of every 10,000 newborns.

  • What other heart defects might my child have?

    A child with coarctation of the aorta often has other heart issues that also require treatment. These conditions may include:

  • What type of follow-up care does my child need?

    After treatment, all children with coarctation of the aorta need to continue to see a pediatric cardiologist regularly for ongoing care. When your child becomes an adult, cardiology care will transition to our adult congenital heart disease program.