Coarctation of the aorta is a narrowing of the aorta, the largest blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. This condition makes the heart work harder to pump blood to the body, weakening the heart muscle. This can also cause the heart muscle to become bulky (hypertrophy) and stiff.

In some extreme cases, coarctation of the aorta can lead to congestive heart failure, when the heart is unable to pump the normal amount of blood to the body.

Coarctation of the aorta can create different blood pressures throughout the body, which can lead to complications such as stroke, kidney failure and intestinal damage.

Children with mild to moderate coarctation of the aorta may appear to be in good health and have no symptoms at first.

Older children with long-standing obstruction can have symptoms that include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Decreased energy 
  • Headaches
  • Leg pain
  • Shortness of breath

Children with critical coarctation of the aorta present at birth may have severe symptoms that include:

  • Circulatory collapse (child becomes gray, cold and the heart may stop beating)

  • Heavy breathing and grunting
  • Trouble feeding (in infants)

Read our Patient Guidebook on Coarctation of the Aorta

Our Patient Guidebooks provide additional information about the conditions we treat. They are not diagnoses and should never be used instead of medical advice.

Coarctation of the Aorta – Causes and Diagnosis

There is no specific cause for coarctation of the aorta, but it occurs more in families with a history of left-sided heart problems, such as aortic stenosis, bicuspid aortic valve, coarctation or hypoplastic left heart syndrome. It also occurs in children with certain genetic abnormalities such as Turner Syndrome.

In some patients, coarctation of the aorta is diagnosed with other congenital heart defects, such as bicuspid aortic valve, ventricular septal defect, atrial septal defect or patent ductus arteriosus.

Need copy here on Diagnosis (2-4 sentences).

Care Providers

The University of Maryland Children's Heart Program team that treats coarctation of the aorta includes a pediatric cardiac surgeon, pediatric cardiologists, pediatric and neonatal intensive care doctors and nurses, pediatric cardiac anesthesiologists, cardiac operating room staff, cardiac nurses and many others with expertise in providing this specialized cardiac care. 

If coarctation of the aorta is diagnosed while you are pregnant, you will see a maternal fetal medicine specialist who will treat you during your pregnancy. 

Treating Coarctation of the Aorta

Coarctation of the aorta can be treated with heart surgery or cardiac catheterization. The exact technique will depend on the degree and location of the narrowing, as well as other associated problems.

Cardiac catheterization is generally done on older children. The pediatric cardiologist will evaluate your child's heart and discuss the best treatment options with you.

After repair of coarctation of the aorta, regular follow-up visits with the pediatric cardiologist will be needed. The frequency of these visits may decrease over time. Medications may be prescribed to treat problems such as high blood pressure.

The risk of coarctation of the aorta occurring again is low, but possible. Adults with coarctation treated in childhood require periodic cardiac MRIs or CTs to be sure the repaired area has not become dilated or narrow. Further treatment may be needed when your child is older.

Contact Us 

  • To learn more about Maternal Fetal Heart medicine, please call 410-328-3865.
  • To make an appointment with a Children's Heart Program physician, please call 410-328-4348.