Dissection of the Aorta
What Is a Dissection of the Aorta?
The aorta is a large artery that carries blood out of your heart. If you have a dissection of the aorta, it means that blood has entered the wall of the artery that’s between the inner and middle layers. This can happen if the inner layer of your aorta tears, allowing blood to pass from the main body of the artery into the wall.
Sometimes, blood hemorrhages from the tiny vessels that supply the outside wall of your aorta. This can also lead to blood accumulating inside the layers of the aortic wall.
The danger is that the dissection could channel blood out of your aorta, causing a fatal rupture of the artery. Serious complications can arise if the dissection sends blood into the space around your heart or lungs.
Symptoms of a Dissection of the Aorta
The symptoms of an aortic dissection can be difficult to distinguish from those of other heart conditions, such as a heart attack.
Chest pain and pain in the upper back are the most common symptoms of this condition. There’s typically severe pain, coupled with a feeling that something is tearing in your chest. Unlike in the case of a heart attack, the pain usually begins suddenly and seems to move around.
Some people have milder pain, which is sometimes mistaken for muscle strain, but this is less common.
Other signs and symptoms include:
weakness or paralysis on one side of the body
a weaker pulse in one arm than in the other
dizziness or confusion
Causes of Dissection of the Aorta
Although the exact cause of aortic dissections is unknown, doctors believe that high blood pressure is a contributing factor because it causes strain on the walls of your arteries.
Anything that weakens your aortic wall can cause a dissection. This includes inherited conditions in which your body tissues develop abnormally, such as Marfan syndrome, and accidental injuries to the chest.
Types of Dissection of the Aorta
he aorta travels upward when it first leaves your heart. This is called the ascending aorta. It then arches downward, passing from your chest into your abdomen. This is known as the descending aorta. A dissection can occur in the ascending or descending part of your aorta. Aortic dissections are classified as type A or type B:
Most dissections are found in the ascending section, where they’re classified as type A.
Dissections in the descending aorta are classified as type B. They tend to be less life-threatening than type A and require less urgent treatment.
Who Is at Risk for a Dissection of the Aorta?
Your risk of an aortic dissection increases with age and is especially high if you’re a male between 40 and 70 years old.
The following factors can also increase your risk:
high blood pressure
atherosclerosis, or hardening of your arteries
conditions such as Marfan syndrome, in which your body’s tissues are weaker than normal
surgical procedures done near the heart
motor vehicle accidents involving chest injuries
a narrowed aorta
an aorta with a faulty valve
cocaine use, which can cause abnormalities in your circulation