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Aortic Dissection

Aortic Dissection

An aortic dissection -- also referred to as dissecting aorta or dissecting aneurysm -- occurs when the inner layer of the aorta tears and blood is channeled through the tear, causing the inner and middle layers to separate. This is a serious and potentially fatal condition. Aortic dissections result in decreased oxygen delivery to vital organs, such as the brain, heart, kidneys and intestines.

There are two types of dissections:
Type A is a tear in the ascending aorta
Type B occurs where there is a tear in the lower aorta

What causes aortic dissection?

Aortic dissections often are the result of a weakening in the aortic wall, which can be associated with a number of common risk factors, including: 

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Connective tissue disorders, such as Marfan syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and Turner's syndrome
  • Cystic medial disease (a degenerative disease of the aortic wall)
  • Aortitis (inflammation of the aorta)
  • Atherosclerosis (narrowing of the aorta due to harden plaque)
  • Existing aneurysm
  • Bicuspid aortic valve (the presence of only two cusps, or leaflets, in the aortic valve, rather than the normal three cusps)
  • Trauma
  • Coarctation of the aorta (narrowing of the aorta)
  • Polycystic kidney disease (a genetic disorder characterized by the growth of numerous cysts filled with fluid in the kidneys)

What are the symptoms of aortic dissection?

Symptoms of an aortic dissection may be confused with symptoms of other heart conditions, such as a heart attack. The most commonly reported sign of an acute aortic dissection is severe, constant chest and/or upper back pain, sometimes described as "ripping" or "tearing" sensation. The pain may be migratory, moving from one place to another, according to the direction and extent of the dissection. Other indications include loss of consciousness, leg or arm weakness and/or severe uncontrolled high blood pressure.

Treatment of Aortic Dissections

In the event of a suspected dissection, our physicians may recommend medications to manage blood pressure in order to prevent the dissection from worsening.

For dissections that require surgery, the University of Chicago Medicine offers expert-level skill in a wide range of surgical treatments:

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