What is coarctation of the aorta?

Coarctation of the aorta is a common congenital (present at birth) heart defect.

Coarctation comes from the Latin coartare, meaning "to press together." In coarctation of the aorta, the aorta is pinched in or narrowed, either in a single location or along a portion of its length. This narrowing restricts normal blood flow through the aorta.

Normal vs. Coarctation of the Aorta

Who is affected by coarctation of the aorta?

Coarctation of the aorta occurs in about 1 in 10,000 births and accounts for 5 to 10 percent of all congenital heart defects. It is less common, but it is also not unusual for the diagnosis to be made in adulthood.

What are the long-term effects of coarctation of the aorta?

Complications can develop from untreated coarctation of the aorta, the result of long-term high blood pressure caused by the coarctation. Some of the most severe complications include stroke, early-onset coronary artery disease, and brain aneurysm or aortic rupture. If the coarctation is severe and remains untreated for a long period, kidney and liver failure can develop. Despite this, there are many people who are not diagnosed with coarctation until they are being checked for high blood pressure as an adult.

More than half of people with coarctation of that aorta also have a congenital heart valve defect (bicuspid aortic valve). Over time, the valve condition usually worsens and may require surgical valve repair or replacement. People who have valve disease are also at risk for an aortic aneurysm (weakening in the walls of the aorta that causes it to bulge out and poses a risk of rupture).

What are the symptoms of coarctation of the aorta?

Symptoms depend on the severity of the narrowing. Severe cases often are diagnosed at birth or within the first months of life. In mild cases, the individual may be symptom–free into adulthood. Symptoms in an adult may include exercise intolerance, headache, shortness of breath, chest pain, nose bleeds, cold feet or leg pain after exercise, or hard-to-control high blood pressure (hypertension).

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/14/2019.

References

  • Darst JR, Collins KK, Miyamoto SDCardiovascular Diseases. In: Hay WW, Jr., Levin MJ, Deterding RR, Abzug MJ. eds. CURRENT Diagnosis & Treatment: Pediatrics, 22e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2013.
  • American Heart Association. About Congenital Heart Defects Accessed 3/12/2015.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts about Congenital Heart Defects Accessed 3/12/2015.
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What are Congenital Heart Defects? Accessed 3/12/2015.
  • Hirsh JC, Devaney EJ, Ohye RG, Bove EL. Chapter 19B. The Heart: II. Congenital Heart Disease. In: Doherty GM. eds. CURRENT Diagnosis & Treatment: Surgery, 13e. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2010.

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