What methods are used to diagnose coarctation of the aorta?
Diagnosis of the condition requires various tests and these may include:
- Echocardiogram - this is an ultrasound scan of the heart and will usually show up the narrowing in the aorta. It may also be possible to measure the differences in pressure on either side of the narrowing (called the pressure gradient) and so give an idea of how severe the narrowing is. It will also be able to measure the force with which the heart is contracting and how strong the heart muscle is pumping. If heart failure is present the heart is unable to pump adequately due to heart muscle weakness. This scan may also pick up any other heart defects which may also be congenital.
- Chest X-ray - this may show that the heart is enlarged. It may show fluid on the lungs if there is heart failure. It may also show some 'notching' (or grooves) on the ribs if collateral blood vessels have developed.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) - this is a test that records the electrical activity of the heart. It can be abnormal in some people with coarctation of the aorta.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - scanning of the blood vessel, using magnetic rays. This provides good details of the structure of the heart and the large blood vessels around it.
- Cardiac catheterisation - a catheter is a thin, flexible, hollow tube. Cardiac catheterisation entails a very thin plastic catheter being passed into the chambers of the heart. The catheter can also be passed into the main blood vessels of the heart (the coronary arteries). It is sometimes carried out if someone has coarctation of the aorta. The difference in pressure on either side of the narrowing can be measured to look at how severe the coarctation is.
Further reading and references
Balloon angioplasty or stenting for coarctation or recoarctation of aorta; NICE Interventional Procedure Guidance, July 2004
Vijayalakshmi K, Griffiths A, Hasan A, et al; Late hazards after repair of coarctation of the aorta. BMJ. 2008 Apr 5336(7647):772-3.
Ijland MM, Tanke RB; Aortic coarctation. Circulation. 2009 Sep 29120(13):1294-5.
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