Coarctation of the aorta
Coarctation of the aorta
Coarctation (ko-ahrk-TAY-shun) of the aorta — or aortic coarctation — is a narrowing of the aorta, the large blood vessel that branches off your heart and delivers oxygen-rich blood to your body. When this occurs, your heart must pump harder to force blood through the narrow part of your aorta.
Coarctation of the aorta is generally present at birth (congenital). Coarctation of the aorta may range from mild to severe, and may not be detected until adulthood, depending on how narrowed the aorta is.
Coarctation of the aorta often occurs along with other heart defects. While treatment for coarctation of the aorta is usually successful, it's a condition that requires careful follow-up through infancy and throughout adulthood.
The signs and symptoms of coarctation of the aorta depend on its seriousness. Children with serious aortic narrowing tend to show signs and symptoms earlier in life, while mild cases may not be diagnosed until adulthood.
Babies with severe coarctation of the aorta usually begin having signs and symptoms shortly after birth. These include:
Left untreated, aortic coarctation in babies may lead to heart failure and death.
Older children and adults with the condition often don't have symptoms, because they tend to have less severe narrowing of the aorta. If signs or symptoms appear, the most common sign is high blood pressure (hypertension) measured in the arm. Signs and symptoms may include:
When to see a doctor
While experiencing these signs or symptoms doesn't necessarily mean that you have a serious problem, it's best to get checked out quickly. Early detection and treatment may help save your life.
Doctors aren't certain what causes aortic coarctation in most cases. For unknown reasons, mild to severe narrowing develops in part of the aorta. Although aortic coarctation can occur anywhere along the aorta, the coarctation is most often located near a blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus. The condition generally begins before birth.
Rarely, coarctation of the aorta may develop later in life. Severe hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) or a condition causing inflamed arteries (Takayasu's arteritis) may narrow your aorta, leading to aortic coarctation. In rare cases, trauma may lead to coarctation of the aorta.
Coarctation of the aorta usually occurs beyond the blood vessels that branch off to your upper body and before the blood vessels that lead to your lower body. This often means you'll have high blood pressure in your arms, but low blood pressure in your legs and ankles.
Chambers and the valves of the heart
A normal heart has two upper and two lower chambers. The upper chambers, the right and left atria, receive incoming blood. The lower chambers, the more muscular right and left ventricles, pump blood ...
Coarctation of the aorta
Coarctation of the aorta is a narrowing, or constriction, in a portion of the aorta. The condition forces the heart to pump harder to get blood through the aorta and on to the rest of the body....
Coarctation of the aorta often occurs along with other congenital heart defects, although doctors don't know what causes multiple heart defects to form together. If you or your child has any of the following heart conditions, you or your child is more likely to have aortic coarctation:
Coarctation of the aorta is also more common in people who have certain genetic conditions, such as Turner syndrome. Women and girls with this syndrome have 45 chromosomes, with one missing or incomplete X chromosome, instead of 46. About 10 percent of women and girls with Turner syndrome have aortic coarctation.
Untreated coarctation of the aorta frequently leads to complications. Several of the complications are a result of long-standing high blood pressure caused by the aortic coarctation.
Complications of coarctation of the aorta include:
In addition, if the coarctation of the aorta is severe, your heart may not be able to pump adequate blood to the organs of your body, resulting in the failure of organs such as your kidneys or liver.
Preparing for your appointment
If you or your child develops signs and symptoms common to coarctation of the aorta, call your doctor. After an initial examination, it's likely that the doctor will refer you or your child to a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of heart conditions (cardiologist).
Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Questions to ask the doctor at the initial appointment include:
Questions to ask if you are referred to a cardiologist include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
If you are the person affected:
If your baby or child is affected:
Tests and diagnosis
The age at which people with coarctation of the aorta are diagnosed depends on the severity of the condition. If the aortic coarctation is severe, it's usually diagnosed during infancy.
Adults and older children tend to have milder cases and usually appear healthy until a doctor detects:
Treatments and drugs
Treatment options for coarctation of the aorta depend on your age when you're diagnosed and how narrowed your aorta is. Other heart defects may be repaired at the same time as aortic coarctation. Treatment approaches usually consist of surgery or a procedure called balloon angioplasty.
Balloon angioplasty and stenting
Babies with severe coarctation of the aorta may receive a drug called prostaglandin E. This drug helps keep the ductus arteriosis open, providing a bypass for blood flow around the constriction, until the coarctation is repaired.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Although coarctation of the aorta may be repaired, the condition requires careful follow-up throughout adulthood to help prevent complications and to monitor for recurrences. Here are a few tips for managing your condition:
Coarctation of the aorta can't be prevented, because it's usually present at birth. However, if you or your child has a condition that increases the risk of aortic coarctation, such as Turner syndrome, another heart defect or a family history of congenital heart disease, early detection can help. Discuss the risk of aortic coarctation with your doctor.
Last Updated: 2010-03-02
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