Aortic Dissection

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A tear in the lining of the aorta is an aortic dissection.

What is Aortic Dissection?

The aorta is the main blood vessel that carries high pressure blood out of the heart.  It gives off branches to the head and neck and arms then arches over the back of the chest alongside the backbone down into the abdomen, giving off further branches to the internal organs.

 

The aorta is a tough tube made of smooth muscle cells and elastic proteins.  It is lined by a special layer called the tunica intima.

 

Aortic dissections are a result of the internal layer of intima tearing and separating from the outer layers.  This forms a flap of tissue inside the aorta.  The tear usually starts high in the chest just where the aorta arches over to travel down the body.  The acute tear may be extremely painful, felt in the chest and back as a searing sensation, sometimes mistaken for a heart attack.  Not all dissections are painful, sometimes a dissection is detected in a patient who has no recollection of any painful attacks.

 

What part of the body does it affect?

The aorta is in the chest and the back of the abdomen. 

What are the symptoms?

The acute tear may be extremely painful, felt in the chest and back as a searing sensation, sometimes mistaken for a heart attack.  Not all dissections are painful, sometimes a dissection is detected in a patient who has no recollection of any painful attacks.

What are the treatment options?

Is the condition preventable? If so, how?

 Aortic dissection is not directly preventable.

What should I do next?

All patients with aortic dissections need very careful control of blood pressure as this reduces the risk of long term complications of the condition.  More than one type of blood pressure medication may be needed, and beta blocker tablets are nearly always included in the treatment.

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