Question: My baby's doctor told me my child hascoarctation of the aorta. What does that mean?
Answer: Aortic coarctation is a narrowing of part of the aorta, the major artery leading out of the heart. This condition is a type of birth defect and is actually one of the more common heart conditions present at birth.
The aorta carries blood from the heart to the vessels that supply the body with blood and nutrients. If part of the aorta is narrowed, it is hard for blood to pass through the artery.
A narrowed aorta can be difficult to diagnose sometimes because it does not always cause symptoms, and babies can't tell you what they are feeling. We often discover this problem during a newborn's first examination or well-baby exam.
Many newborns with this problem will have symptoms in the first few days of life. Common symptoms include poor feeding, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, decreased responsiveness, cold legs and feet.
In mild cases, symptoms might not develop until the child has reached adolescence. In such cases the most common sign is a murmur or hypertension often noted during a medical visit. Less common signs include chest pain, dizziness or fainting, cramping pain in the legs during exercise, poor growth, headaches or shortness of breath.
Most newborns with symptoms must have heart surgery as soon as possible after birth. Children who are diagnosed when they are older might also need surgery, but because the symptoms are usually not as severe, we can take more time to plan for treatment.
When the diagnosis is made in an older child, we can often perform a non-surgical, interventional approach. An interventional pediatric cardiologist routes a tiny balloon to the site of the blockage, pumps up the balloon and places a stent to hold the artery open.
While surgery during infancy remains the gold standard for treating this condition, stents are gaining in popularity as we gain experience in using them. Regardless of which procedure is used, symptoms usually improve quickly and the outcomes with timely care are generally excellent.