What is coarctation of the aorta?

Coarctation of the aorta is heart defect that causes a narrowing of the main artery in the heart, called the aorta. This forces the heart to work harder to pump blood through the artery. Many children with coarctation of the aorta also have a bicuspid aortic valve, which means the aortic valve has two flaps instead of three. They may also have other heart defects.


Symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on the amount of narrowing.

Common signs of coarctation of the aorta include:

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


To help diagnose coarctation of the aorta, your child’s doctor may order one or more of the following tests:

  • echocardiogram (cardiac ultrasound)
  • electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • chest x-ray


Most babies need surgery to repair the aorta. Some may need emergency surgery if their symptoms are severe.

Learn more about Pediatric Cardiology services at Boston Children’s Health Physicians.


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