The congenital disorder known as coarctation of the aorta (CoA) is a heart defect discovered at birth or much later which can threaten the life of an infant or child. The term simply refers to narrowing of the aorta, but many infants experience enough narrowing that their circulation is dangerously impaired.
It’s most likely a genetic disorder that is passed down from parent to child, but some studies show a potential link to exposure to risk factors in the environment like second-hand smoke and toxins.
When the issue is discovered in an infant, it’s usually because the child goes into congestive heart failure and is rushed to the hospital. Milder cases that don’t cause such serious effects may go unnoticed until childhood or even later.
When delayed in diagnosis, symptoms tend to include hypertension, unusual sweating, heavy breathing, headaches, cramping and weak muscles, and chest pain. In severe cases that go untreated, fainting and extreme chest pain sets in.
It is not known what exactly causes the narrowing of the aorta, since it is a congenital (birth) defect. However, there has been research carried out that has led us to understand that minor to critical narrowing progresses in part of the aorta typically occurs near a blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus.
It is rare for the condition to occur later in life, although traumatic injury can lead to the condition. Later in life, though also unusual, the severe hardening of the arteries can cause COA, as well as conditions which cause the arteries to become inflamed.
Typically, the condition occurs after the blood vessels supplying the upper body, but before the blood vessels that lead to the lower body. This leads to high blood pressure in arms and low blood pressure in legs and ankles.
A man is more likely to get the condition that a woman. COA is typically followed with birth anomalies, such as ventricular septal anomaly – a hole amongst the heart’s right and left ventricles.
For life-threatening cases of coarctation of the aorta, emergency surgery is necessary to restore blood flow. A balloon angioplasty is the most common surgery used. A small balloon is used to stretch the aorta open again and leave a fine mesh stent behind to support it if necessary.
This procedure works for infants, children, and even adults who manage to go without a diagnosis at a younger age. Very mild cases may not need any treatment or all, or just medication to control the side effects. Most patients need high blood pressure medication for life, even after surgery.
If the diet of a pregnant woman is lacking some of the necessary nutrients for development during the first three weeks of pregnancy, this can sometimes cause the condition to occur. It’s therefore important to observe a balanced diet and consume meals high in nutrition to prevent Coarctation of the aorta from occurring in infants.
Mothers should also avoid other risk factors associated with the condition, such as certain medicines that can be harmful to the unborn child and cause COA.
Early detection helps in the prevention or worsening of the condition. Coarctation of the aorta is suspected when there is an unexplained enlargement of the right ventricle, or there are other telltale symptoms such as the aortic arch not being noticeable.