This life-threatening condition occurs when blood leaks through a tear in the body's main artery (aorta). Know the symptoms and how it's treated.
An aortic dissection is a serious condition in which a tear occurs in the inner layer of the body's main artery (aorta). Blood rushes through the tear, causing the inner and middle layers of the aorta to split (dissect). If the blood goes through the outside aortic wall, aortic dissection is often deadly.
Aortic dissection is relatively uncommon. It usually occurs in men in their 60s and 70s. Symptoms of aortic dissection may mimic those of other diseases, often leading to delays in diagnosis. However, when an aortic dissection is detected early and treated promptly, the chance of survival greatly improves.
An aortic aneurysm occurs when a weak spot in the wall of the aorta begins to bulge, as shown in the image on the left. An aneurysm can occur anywhere in the aorta. Having an aortic aneurysm increases the risk of a tear in the aortic lining, called a dissection, as shown in the image on the right.
Aortic dissection symptoms may be similar to those of other heart problems, such as a heart attack. Typical signs and symptoms include:
If you have severe chest pain, fainting, sudden shortness of breath or symptoms of a stroke, call 911 or your local emergency number. These signs and symptoms aren't always due to a serious problem, but it's best to be seen by a doctor quickly. Early detection and treatment may help save your life.
An aortic dissection is caused by a weakened area of the aorta's wall.
Aortic dissections are divided into two groups, depending on which part of the aorta is affected:
Some of the things that may raise your risk of aortic dissection include:
Certain genetic diseases increase the risk of having an aortic dissection, including:
Inflammation of the arteries (giant cell arteritis) may also increase your risk of aortic dissection.
Other potential risk factors for aortic dissection include:
Possible complications of aortic dissection include:
You can reduce your risk of an aortic dissection by preventing chest injury and taking steps to keep your heart healthy.
Work with your doctor. If you have a family history of aortic dissection, a connective tissue disorder or a bicuspid aortic valve, tell your doctor. If you have an aortic aneurysm, find out how often you need monitoring and if surgery is necessary to repair your aneurysm.
If you have a genetic condition that increases your risk of aortic dissection, your doctor may recommend medications, even if your blood pressure is normal.
Detecting an aortic dissection can be a challenge because the symptoms are similar to those of many other health problems. Your doctor may think you have an aortic dissection if you have:
Tests to diagnose aortic dissection include:
An aortic dissection is a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment. Treatment may include surgery or medications, depending on the area of the aorta involved.
Treatment for type A aortic dissection may include:
Treatment of type B aortic dissection may include:
After treatment, you may need to take medication to control your blood pressure for the rest of your life. You may need regular CT scans or MRI scans to monitor your condition.