Coarctation of the Aorta

Coarctation of the aorta is a birth defect that causes a narrowing of the aorta, a blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. When this condition occurs, blood flow to the lower part of the body is restricted, causing problems in blood circulation to organs such as the kidneys. The restricted blood vessel can also cause high blood pressure in the arteries that branch out from the aorta, including those in the arms and brain. This may increase risk for a stroke.

The left ventricle — one of the four chambers of the heart — may become swollen and weak due to the strain, causing one or more chambers of the heart to fail to keep up with the volume of blood flowing through them. This may result in congestive heart failure.

Mild cases of coarctation of the aorta may not produce symptoms until later in life. In babies with severe cases, however, signs and symptoms typically appear shortly after birth. The symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Heavy sweating
  • Irritability
  • Pale skin

Older children with coarctation of the aorta tend to have less severe narrowing of the aorta; thus, they often don't have symptoms. Your child's doctor may suspect a problem if he or she hears a distinctive murmur in your child's heart or if your child has high blood pressure in the arms and low pressure in the legs.

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To diagnose coarctation of the aorta, your child's doctor will conduct a thorough examination. The doctor may recommend certain tests to make a definite diagnosis and rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms. Tests may include:

In the past, coarctation of the aorta repair involved heart surgery followed by five to seven days in the hospital for recovery. Today, heart specialists can correct coarctation in many patients without surgery, using a procedure called cardiac catheterization. In the procedure, a thin, flexible tube is threaded through a blood vessel to the heart, where it is used to insert a specially designed stent — a small, metal mesh tube — in the narrowed area of the aorta.

The Procedure

The catheterization and stent placement is performed in our Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory. The procedure takes about three to four hours. Your child will be admitted to the hospital the morning of the procedure and may return home the following morning.

To perform cardiac catheterization, a tiny incision is made in the groin to insert thin, flexible tubes, called catheters. The catheters are directed through blood vessels to the heart. Catheters can carry very small instruments or repair devices, such as a stent.

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Heart Center

Interventional Cardiology Program
1975 Fourth St., Second Floor
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353-4704
Fax: (415) 353-4144
Appointment information

Cardiothoracic Surgery Program
1825 Fourth St., Sixth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 476-3501
Fax: (415) 353-4144