What is Aortic Dissection?

An aortic dissection is a serious condition in which a tear or split occurs in the inner layer of the aorta. The aorta is the largest blood vessel branching from the heart and supplies blood and oxygen to the entire body. If a tear occurs, blood is able to pass through the opening. This can cause the inner and middle layers of the aorta to separate, or dissect.[1]

The condition is relatively rare, but most common in people between the ages of 50 and 65, tending to affect men more often than women. The main symptom is a pain in the chest, upper back or abdomen.

An aortic dissection is a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment. In most cases, surgery will be necessary to repair the blood vessel.

Aortic dissection symptoms

The main symptom of aortic dissection is a sudden, intense pain in the chest and upper back, commonly described as shearing or ripping sensation. This pain may spread to the back, arms or legs, depending on the location of the dissection.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold hands or feet
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • General weakness

People experiencing an aortic dissection may also lose consciousness, depending on the amount of blood that is lost from the blood vessel. Symptoms may be difficult to distinguish from those of other heart conditions, including heart attack and stroke.

Causes of aortic dissection

An aortic dissection typically occurs in a weakened area of the aorta. According to the Stanford classification system, there are two types of the condition, each defined by which part of the aorta is affected:

  • Type A: Tear occurs close to where the aorta exits the heart or in the upper aorta, known as the ascending aorta. May affect the upper aorta only or the upper aorta, as well as the lower aorta. Even if only a very small section of the upper aorta is affected and a large area of the lower aorta, this will still be classed as type A.
  • Type B: Tear occurs in the lower aorta, known as the descending aorta.

The DeBakey classification system, on the other hand, identifies three types of aortic dissection:[2]

  • Type I: Tear occurs in the ascending and descending aorta.
  • Type II: Tear occurs in the ascending aorta only.
  • Type III: Tear occurs in the descending aorta only.

The type of aortic dissection being experienced may affect the treatment options available.

Risk factors

Aortic dissection is more common in men than in women, and people between the ages of 50 and 65 are most at risk.

Other risk factors include:

People who already have a weakened or enlarged aorta – an aortic aneurysm – or who have experienced angina, a heart attack or stroke are also at an increased risk of aortic dissection. Less common causes are cocaine use and chest injuries, such as those experienced as a result of a car accident.

Certain genetic conditions are also known to increase the risk of aortic dissection; these include Marfan syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Turner’s syndrome.

Diagnosing aortic dissection

The diagnosis is made by a doctor based on the symptoms and appearance of the affected person. In an emergency situation, an ultrasound scan may be carried out immediately to confirm the diagnosis.

Other tests that may help to confirm the diagnosis include:

Aortic dissection treatment

A type A, or type I and type II, aortic dissection is a medical emergency requiring surgery to repair the damaged aorta before complications can occur. Typically, a valve-sparing aortic root replacement, also known as a David procedure, will be performed.[3] This procedure preserves the aortic valve, grafting it to a new section of aortic tissue. In cases where the aortic valve is destroyed completely, it will typically be replaced with an artificial valve. This is major surgery carrying the risk of complications.

A type B, or type III, aortic dissection may not necessarily require surgery. Medication, such as beta-blockers – these may be used to manage blood pressure – or a less invasive type of surgery, elective endovascular repair, may be performed to redirect blood flow away from the dissection.[4]

After initial treatment for both types of aortic dissection has been carried out, long-term use of blood pressure-lowering medication will typically be required. Many people will take this medication for the rest of their lives. Hospital visits, which may include CT and MRI scans, to check-up on the condition may also be necessary.[1]

Aortic dissection complications

If effective treatment is not received, an aortic dissection can be life-threatening. This is commonly due to internal bleeding, but can also result from damage to an organ – stemming from a lack of blood flow to the organ – stroke, or damage to the heart’s aortic valve.[1]

Aortic dissection prevention

Preventing an aortic dissection typically involves keeping blood pressure within a healthy range. To do this, a variety of lifestyle changes are recommended:

  • Eating a healthy diet rich in vitamins, minerals, fruits and vegetables, and low in sugar, fat and carbohydrates
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Quitting smoking or not starting in the first place
  • Avoiding drugs, such as cocaine, and other stimulants

Preventive measures are particularly recommended for people within the at-risk groups for aortic dissection. In combination with lifestyle changes, people with a history of high blood pressure should also take care to take their prescribed medication.

Other names for aortic dissection

  • Aortic tear

  1. Patient. “Aortic Dissection.” May 25, 2016. Accessed June 28, 2018.

  2. GeneReview. “Heritable Thoracic Aortic Disease Overview.” December, 2016. Accessed July 20, 2018.

  3. Columbia Surgery. “Valve Sparing Aortic Root Replacement (David Procedure).” Accessed June 29, 2018.

  4. Columbia Surgery. “Aortic Dissection.” Accessed June 29, 2018.

**What is Aortic Dissection?**


Aortic dissection is ⁢a serious medical condition in which⁤ the layers of the aorta, the largest artery ​in the ‍body, separate and blood flows⁢ between them. This can weaken the aorta and lead to life-threatening complications, including⁤ rupture.

**Keywords:** aortic dissection, aorta, blood flow,⁣ rupture

**Causes⁣ and Risk⁤ Factors**

* High blood pressure (hypertension)

* Aortic ⁤valve disorders

* Marfan syndrome (a genetic disorder that‍ weakens ⁤connective tissue)

*⁣ Pregnancy

* Certain medications, such as cocaine

* Trauma


The symptoms⁤ of aortic dissection can vary depending⁣ on the location and severity of the dissection. Common symptoms include:

* Sudden, severe chest pain

* Pain that radiates⁤ to the back, neck, or jaw

*⁢ Difficulty breathing

* Hoarseness

* ⁣Weakness or paralysis on one side of the body

* Loss⁤ of consciousness

**Keywords:** chest pain, radiating pain, difficulty breathing,⁣ hoarseness,⁤ weakness, paralysis


Aortic dissection is typically diagnosed using:

* **Medical history and physical examination:** Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine you for signs of ⁢aortic dissection.

* **Imaging tests:** A‌ variety of imaging tests, such as‍ a CT scan or MRI, can ⁣confirm the diagnosis and show the extent of the dissection.

**Keywords:** CT scan, MRI


Treatment for aortic dissection depends on the severity of the dissection. Options may include:

* **Medication:** Blood pressure ‌medications can help‌ lower blood⁢ pressure and reduce the risk of rupture.

* **Surgery:** Emergency surgery is often necessary‍ to‍ repair the dissection and prevent rupture.

**Keywords:** medication, surgery


If left ‍untreated, aortic ​dissection‌ can lead to life-threatening complications, such as:

* Rupture (tearing of the aorta)

* ⁣Stroke

* Organ damage

* Death

**Keywords:** rupture, stroke, organ damage, death


The‍ following measures can help reduce your risk of aortic dissection:

* Control high blood pressure

* Treat aortic valve disorders

* Get regular checkups for ⁢Marfan syndrome if you have a family history‌ of the‌ condition

* Avoid using cocaine

* Avoid ⁢strenuous physical activity if you have risk factors for aortic dissection

**Keywords:** prevention, control blood pressure, treat ⁣aortic​ valve⁤ disorders, regular checkups, avoid cocaine, avoid strenuous activity

One comment

  1. Aortic dissection is a serious medical condition that occurs when the inner layer of the aorta, the body’s largest artery, tears.

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