Anomalous Coronary Artery in Children
What is an anomalous coronary artery in a child?
An anomalous coronary artery (ACA) is a heart defect. This is something your baby
is born with (congenital). In ACA, the blood vessels that supply blood to your child’s
heart muscle aren’t normal. In some cases, the arteries don't arise from the correct
place, or there are other problems with size, connections or other issues.
ACAs usually aren’t diagnosed until a person is a teen or adult. This is because the
condition doesn’t cause many symptoms. It may also be hard to tell that an ACA is
causing the symptoms.
What causes an ACA in a child?
Most congenital heart problems have no known cause. An ACA may happen with other congenital
heart problems. For instance, it may occur with transposition of the great arteries
and tetralogy of Fallot.
What are the symptoms of an ACA in a child?
The symptoms of an ACA vary depending on the defect. Your child may not have any symptoms.
In fact, people often don’t know they have this issue until they have a heart test
done later in life for other reasons. Other people may have chest pain when exercising
Depending on the type of ACA, symptoms may start in babies. A baby with an ACA may have
chest pain from a decreased blood supply to the heart muscle (angina). Your baby may
also have the following symptoms:
- Irritability or fussiness
- Pale skin
- Poor feeding
Your baby may also have symptoms of heart failure. These can include:
- Trouble breathing
- Swelling of the legs, ankles, feet, or other areas
An older child may complain of chest pain, dizziness, and fainting during exercise.
Older children may have symptoms of heart failure. These can include shortness of
breath with exercise and swelling of the legs, ankles, and feet.
People with an ACA may not have symptoms until adulthood. These can include chest
pain and symptoms of heart failure. Symptoms may start because of a decreased blood
supply to the heart muscle. There may have been enough blood supplied to the heart
muscle when they were younger. People may also have sudden cardiac death before the
condition is diagnosed.
The symptoms of an ACA may look like other health issues or heart problems. Make sure
your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is an ACA diagnosed in a child?
Your child's healthcare provider will give your child an exam. He or she will listen
to your child’s heart and lungs, and look for other symptoms.
Your child's healthcare provider will refer your child to a pediatric cardiologist.
This is a doctor with special training to diagnose and treat heart problems in babies
and children. Your child's doctor may recommend other tests such as:
A chest X-ray shows your child’s heart and lungs. The X-ray may show changes in the
lungs because of extra blood flow.
An ECG records the electrical activity of the heart. It also shows abnormal rhythms
(arrhythmias) and finds heart muscle stress.
An echo uses sound waves to make a moving picture of the heart and heart valves.
Cardiac catheterization (cardiac or heart cath)
A cardiac catheterization gives detailed information about the structures inside the
heart. In this test, a small, thin, flexible tube (catheter) is put into a blood vessel
in your child’s groin. Then your child’s healthcare provider guides it to your child’s
heart. Your child will get an injection of contrast dye. This is used to see the heart
more clearly. Your child’s healthcare provider will give him or her medicine to help
relax and prevent pain (sedation). Your child’s blood pressure and oxygen levels will
be checked during the test.
Cardiac computed tomography angiography (CCTA)
CCTA shows detailed pictures of the blood vessels.
Cardiac magnetic resonance angiography (CMRA)
This type of MRI shows blood flow through the arteries of the heart.
This test uses dye and special X-rays to see the arteries of the heart.
These are scans that find abnormal blood flow to the heart. It can find how much the
heart is damaged. It can also measure heart function.
How is an ACA treated in a child?
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also
depend on how severe the condition is and what type of ACA your child has.
Treatment for an ACA may include:
- Medical treatment. Your child may take medicines to help the heart pump better pump and to control blood
pressure. You child may also need oxygen therapy.
- Surgical treatment. Your child may need surgery to fix the defect.
Your child may also need to limit his or her activities.
What are the complications of an ACA in a child?
The coronary arteries deliver blood to the heart muscle. Any problems with these arteries
may lead to a heart attack or death.
Many people with an ACA don’t know they have it until a severe event happens. These
can include chest pain, a heart attack, or sudden death.
Children with an ACA who are active or athletic may be at risk for sudden death. They
may need to change their exercise routines. ACA is the second most common cause of
sudden death in young athletes.
ACA may also increase the risk for early development of fatty buildup inside the arteries
of the heart (coronary artery disease). This increases the risk for a heart attack.
How can I help my child live with an anomalous coronary artery?
Work with your child’s healthcare provider to create a care plan. Your child should
follow it closely. Even if your child doesn’t have symptoms, he or she will need heart
checkups. Your child may also need exercise stress tests to check for changes in the coronary
If your child has surgery for an ACA, he or she may still have a higher risk for early
heart disease. Ask your child's healthcare provider about your child's diet and physical
activity. This can help reduce your child’s risk for heart disease.
Ask your child's healthcare provider about your child’s outlook.
When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?
Call your child’s healthcare provider if your child has any new or worse symptoms.
If your child has chest pain, get medical help right away. This is an emergency.
Key points about an anomalous coronary artery in children
- In an ACA, the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart muscle aren’t normal.
- ACAs are present at birth. But they are usually not diagnosed until the late teen
years or adulthood. This is because they don't often cause symptoms.
- This condition may lead to a heart attack or sudden death.
- If your child has chest pain, get medical help right away. This is an emergency.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child.
Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose
for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important
if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.