Aortic Dissection - Topic Overview
What is an aortic dissection?
occurs when a small tear develops in the wall of the
aorta . The tear forms a new channel between the inner
and outer layers of the aortic wall. This causes bleeding into the channel and
can enlarge the tear. Aortic dissection is a life-threatening condition.
Aortic dissection can be caused by
atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and high
blood pressure, traumatic injury to the chest, such as being hit by the
steering wheel of a car during an accident, and conditions that are present at
birth, such as
Marfan's syndrome or
What causes aortic dissection, and how can it be prevented?
Any one or any combination of the following may cause
- High blood pressure. Most patients with an aortic
dissection have had
high blood pressure for many years. The high blood
pressure accelerates the natural processes of tissue aging and damage to the
tissue, promoting a weakness of the aortic wall and increasing the risk for a
- Processes associated with high blood pressure. A
variety of processes is associated with high blood pressure and therefore
increases the risk of developing an aortic dissection. These include pregnancy,
lupus, polycystic kidney disease,
giant cell arteritis, and cocaine abuse. In pregnancy,
the increased frequency of aortic dissections is caused by the combination of
hormonal effect on the tissue structure (elastin fibers) and additional high
blood pressure stress.
- Diseases of the connective tissue. Either Marfan's
syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome can damage the connective tissue in the
middle of the aortic wall. This damage can lead to aortic dissection.
- Chest injury. Severe chest injury, such as might
occur in an automobile accident, may also cause aortic dissection.
A family history of aortic dissection is also a risk
The key point in prevention of aortic dissection is
dealing with high blood pressure. Minimizing this and other risk factors for
atherosclerosis significantly reduces the risk of developing an aortic
dissection. Lifestyle changes, quitting smoking, and a strict dietary regimen,
supported by a well-controlled medical therapy, can reduce high blood
What are the symptoms of aortic dissection?
the leading symptom of aortic dissection. You will generally have a sudden
onset of pain at the moment of dissection. The pain is usually described as
ripping or tearing and as the worst pain ever experienced. It is usually in
between the shoulders on the back and might radiate to the arms or the neck.
Less frequently, the pain can be felt as chest pain. The pain is very difficult
to distinguish from that of angina or a heart attack.
symptoms may include:
- Numbness and the inability to move the
- Lack of pulse.