Aortic dissection is a tear in the inner layer of the aorta the major artery carrying blood out of the heart. This potentially life-threatening condition occurs in roughly two out of every 10,000 people.
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Arteries have three layers. Aortic dissection is a potentially life-threatening condition in which a tear develops in the inner layer of the aorta, the major artery carrying blood out of the heart.
Causes of a dissecting aortic aneurysm include:
With an aortic dissection, blood surges through the tear into and along the wall of the aorta, causing the inner and middle layers to separate (dissect).
If the blood-filled channel ruptures through the aortic wall, aortic dissection is usually fatal.
Aortic dissection occurs in approximately two out of every 10,000 people. It can affect anyone, but is most often found in men aged 40 to 70.
Most commonly associated with high blood pressure, an aortic dissection also can result from atherosclerosis.
Other risk factors include:
The UPMC Center for Thoracic Aortic Disease is a specialty program led by cardiothoracic surgeons at UPMC. The center offers a full range of treatments for disorders and diseases affecting the aorta, including aortic dissection.
Aortic dissection can occur suddenly, and most cases appear in the emergency department as a sudden catastrophic event.
Like all types of aneurysms, there may be no signs or symptoms of an aortic dissection.
You may experience a sharp, tearing pain in your chest or upper back, or feel pain in your:
Since most aortic dissection cases are diagnosed in the emergency room, the emergency physician will perform a physical exam, and then rapidly proceed with imaging studies, including:
Aortic dissection is a life-threatening condition requiring hospitalization, usually in an intensive care unit (ICU).
The condition can be managed if it is diagnosed and treated before the aorta ruptures.
Fewer than half of patients with a ruptured aorta survive; 60 percent of patients treated for aortic dissection are alive 10 years later.
Aortic dissection treatments often include medication or surgical repair, depending on the severity and location of the dissection.
The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute offers educational information and videos about aortic dissection and other heart and vascular diseases and treatments.
Many people find these resources helpful in answering their questions about their condition and preparing them for their procedure or diagnostic test.
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