Coarctation of the Aorta | Symptoms & Causes

What are the symptoms of coarctation of the aorta?

The more severe the narrowing of the aorta, the more signs and symptoms a child will have, and the earlier the problem will be noticed. In infants, the onset of symptoms in a previously “fine” baby can be sudden and severe. On the other end of the spectrum, mild narrowing may not cause any symptoms at all.

Common signs include:

  • heavy or rapid breathing
  • pale skin
  • poor feeding
  • sweating
  • irritability

The most common physical finding for coarctation of the aorta in an infant is that the baby’s femoral (leg) pulses are weak and difficult for the doctor to feel.

In some cases, coarctation of the aorta may not be detected until school age, adolescence or even adulthood — often during a routine blood pressure test. As the child grows, signs and symptoms can appear, such as:

  • high blood pressure
  • nosebleeds
  • heart murmur
  • headaches (from high blood pressure)
  • cramps in the lower sections of the body (from low blood pressure) 

What causes coarctation of the aorta?

Coarctation of the aorta may be due to improper development of the aorta in the first eight weeks of fetal growth. Congenital heart defects, like coarctation of the aorta, usually occur by chance, with no clear reason for their development.

This condition also may be associated with other heart defects such as Shone’s syndrome, bicuspid aortic valve and ventricular septal defect.