What Is Coarctation of the Aorta? | Symptoms & Treatment | MedStar Health

Coarctation of the aorta is a narrowing of the aorta, the body’s largest artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. It’s a common congenital heart defect, meaning it develops before birth. In fact, aortic coarctation accounts for 5 to 10 percent of all congenital heart defects.

When part of the aorta is narrow, the heart must work harder to pump blood through it. Treatment of this condition is usually successful, but if left untreated, it can cause:

If you were diagnosed or treated for aortic coarctation as a child, our team in the Adult Congenital Heart Center will work with you to monitor the condition throughout your life.

What are the symptoms?

Many people with aortic coarctation will be symptom-free. If you have a mild case, it may not be diagnosed until adulthood when high blood pressure is detected.

While high blood pressure is the most common symptom, adults also may experience:

  • Cold feet or leg cramps
  • Chest pain, also known as angina

  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nosebleeds

Babies and children with severe cases of aortic coarctation may show symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Pale skin

What causes coarctation of the aorta?

This condition generally develops before birth, although we’re not sure why.

It often occurs with other heart defects, such as:

In rare cases, aortic coarctation develops later in life. Traumatic injury is the most common cause in these cases, but it also can be a result of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) or a condition causing inflamed arteries known as Takayasu’s arteritis.


Angiogram (Angiography)

An angiogram is a special X-ray taken as a special dye is injected through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter to detect blockages or aneurysms in blood vessels.

Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.

Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan

The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.


An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.


A fluoroscopy is an imaging technique that uses a continuous X-ray beam passed through the body to create real-time, moving images of your internal structures.

Fractional Flow Reserve

Fractional flow reserve, also known as FFR, is a measurement of how well blood can flow through the coronary arteries. Narrowing or blockages in these arteries can lead to a heart attack without treatment.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets, and computer technology used to create images of your heart and blood vessels.

Pulse Volume Recording

Pulse volume recording tests are used to evaluate blood flow through the arteries in your arms or legs.

Stress Tests

Stress tests are used to assess how your heart works during physical activity. There are several types of stress tests, including treadmill or bike stress tests, nuclear stress tests, stress echocardiograms, and chemically induced stress tests.


Treatment options for aortic coarctation depend on your age and the severity of the condition. Your treatment plan may include angioplasty, stenting, or surgery to repair the coarctation of the aorta.

Aortic Surgery

Aortic surgery describes a variety of procedures to treat conditions that affect the aorta.


Angioplasty improves blood flow through the arteries by clearing plaque buildup.


Stenting uses a mesh tube to open narrow blood vessels and improve blood flow.

Transradial Catheterization

Transradial catheterization is a form of cardiac catheterization in which doctors use the radial artery, located in the wrist, to treat many heart and vascular conditions.

Ask MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute

Have general questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net. If you have clinically-specific questions, please contact your physician’s office.