Coarctation of the aorta is a narrowing of the aorta, the main blood vessel carrying oxygen-rich blood from the left ventricle of the heart to all of the organs of the body.
Coarctation occurs most commonly in a short segment of the aorta just beyond where the arteries to the head and arms take off, as the aorta arches inferiorly toward the abdomen and legs.
This portion of the aorta is called the "juxtaductal" part of the aorta, or the part near where the ductus arteriosus attaches. (Please see the illustration.)
The ductus arteriosus is a blood vessel that is normally present in a fetus and has special tissue in its wall that causes it to close in the first hours or days of life. It is thought that coarctation may be caused by the presence of extra ductal tissue extending into the adjacent aorta which results in aortic narrowing as the ductal tissue contracts.
In babies with coarctation, the aortic arch may be small (hypoplastic). Coarctation may also occur along with other cardiac defects, typically involving the left side of the heart. The defects most commonly seen with coarctation are bicuspid aortic valve and ventricular septal defect. Coarctation may also be seen as a part of more complex, single ventricle cardiac defects.
Coarctation of the aorta is common in patients with some chromosomal abnormalities, such as Turner's syndrome.
In the presence of a coarctation, the left ventricle has to work harder, since it must generate a higher pressure than normal to force blood through the narrow segment of the aorta to the lower part of the body.
If the narrowing is severe, the ventricle may not be strong enough to perform this extra work resulting in congestive heart failure or inadequate blood flow to the organs of the body.