An aortic dissection is a serious condition in which the inner layer of the aorta, the large blood vessel branching off the heart, tears. Blood surges through the tear, causing the inner and middle layers of the aorta to separate (dissect). If the blood-filled channel ruptures through the outside aortic wall, aortic dissection is often fatal.
Aortic dissection is relatively uncommon. The condition most frequently 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.
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 signs or symptoms such as severe chest pain, fainting, sudden onset of shortness of breath or symptoms of a stroke, call 911 or emergency medical assistance. These signs and symptoms don't always indicate a serious problem, but it's best to get checked quickly. Early detection and treatment may help save your life.
An aortic dissection occurs in a weakened area of the aortic wall. Chronic high blood pressure may stress the aortic tissue, making it more susceptible to tearing. You can also be born with a condition associated with a weakened and enlarged aorta, such as Marfan syndrome, bicuspid aortic valve or other rarer conditions associated with weakening of the walls of the blood vessels. Rarely, aortic dissections are caused by traumatic injury to the chest area, such as during motor vehicle accidents.
Aortic dissections are divided into two groups, depending on which part of the aorta is affected:
Detecting an aortic dissection can be tricky because the symptoms are similar to those of a variety of health problems. Doctors often suspect an aortic dissection if the following signs and symptoms are present:
Although these signs and symptoms suggest aortic dissection, more-sensitive imaging techniques are needed. Frequently used imaging procedures include:
An aortic dissection can lead to:
Here are a few tips to reduce your risk of an aortic dissection:
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.
Risk factors for aortic dissection include:
Certain genetic diseases increase the risk of having an aortic dissection, including:
Other potential risk factors include: