Aortic Dissection

What is an Aortic Dissection?

When a person experiences an aortic dissection, it means that the inner layer of tissue in the aorta essentially begins to pull away or separate from the rest of the tissue. This causes a tear in the aortic wall. The aorta is the main artery in the body. It attaches directly to the heart and then branches out and carries blood to the rest of the body. When a tear occurs in the wall of this particular artery, a great deal of blood could be lost quickly which puts the person’s life at risk.

However, the actual aortic dissection is not a full rupture of the aorta. Instead, because the inner lining of the aorta separates from the rest of the arterial wall, the aorta has technically split or dissected. The blood moves through the tear into the space between the outer aortic wall and the torn inner layer. However, ruptures can happen.

An aortic dissection could be caused by unmanaged, chronic high blood pressure. This heath condition could also be caused by some congenital diseases and conditions that weaken arteries and the cardiovascular system. Injuries to the chest can also sometimes cause an aortic dissection, though this is quite rare.

What are the Symptoms of an Aortic Dissection?

There are numerous symptoms of an aortic dissection and they tend to mimic the symptoms of other heart conditions.

Symptoms include

Severe and sudden chest pain is a common symptom of aortic dissection. The pain could also occur in the back and may feel like tearing or be a searing type of pain. Shortness of breath and weakness are also common symptoms. A person may also lose consciousness, be unable to speak, or experience paralysis on one side of their body.

Aortic Dissection Causes

Aortic dissection usually occurs because of a tear or damage in the inner layer of the aortic wall. The chest (thoracic) section of the artery is affected the most, but it may also develop in the abdominal aorta. Every time a tear occurs, it creates two pathways: one through which blood flows through, and another through which blood stands still. As the channel with stationary blood further extends its boundaries, it pushes toward other branches of the aorta which in turn narrows the other branches and stops blood from flowing through.

Sometimes, aortic dissection may also result in abnormal ballooning or widening of the aorta (aneurysm). The underlying cause is unknown, but it may occur in a patient due to aging, a certain disease (atherosclerosis, a trauma on the chest area, or high blood pressure). Other factors that may also contribute include the narrowing of the aorta, heart surgery or procedures, connective tissue disorders, swelling of the blood vessels due to syphilis and arthritis, and pregnancy. Aortic dissection is most common in men between the ages of 50 and 70.

How is an Aortic Dissection Treated?

There are two courses of treatment for an aortic dissection.

Medication and Surgery

The first is through prescription medications like beta blockers. These medications are designed to help reduce blood pressure and keep blood flow under control. However, oftentimes an aortic dissection requires surgical repair.

Aortic Dissection Prevention

As with any other disease regarding blood vessels, prevention is critical. Controlling high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and quitting smoking, each lower the risk of all blood vessel disease in patients. Thus, the use of a screening ultrasound to check for abdominal aortic aneurysm is an important procedure. Likewise, any chest pain shouldn’t be overlooked, and medical care should be provided immediately by alerting the emergency medical services and dialing 911. Because sometimes the cause of the chest pain may be unknown, issuing a baby aspirin together with the patient is allowed across the world.

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Last Reviewed:
September 12, 2016
Last Updated:
November 09, 2017