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Disorders of the Aorta

The aorta pumps oxygenated blood from the heart to all parts of the body. Although aortic disease is not the most common cause of heart disease, disorders of the aorta can be life threatening. Common aortic abnormalities include:

Aortic Dissection

Aortic dissection, also known as an aortic aneurysm-dissecting,  is a potentially life-threatening condition in which there is bleeding into and along the wall of the aorta, the major artery carrying blood out of the heart.
Aortic dissection most often occurs because of a tear or damage to the inner wall of the aorta. This usually occurs in the thoracic (chest) portion of the artery, but may also occur in the abdominal portion.
An aortic dissection is classified as type A or B depending on where it begins and ends.

  • Type A begins in the first (ascending) part of the aorta. 
  • Type B begins in the descending part of the aorta. 

When a tear occurs, it creates two channels: One in which blood continues to travel and another where blood remains still. As the aortic dissection grows bigger, the channel with non-traveling blood can get bigger and push on other branches of the aorta. The exact cause is unknown, but risks include atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and high blood pressure. Traumatic injury is a major cause of aortic dissection, especially blunt trauma to the chest. 

Thoracic Aortic Aneurysms

A thoracic aortic aneurysm is a widening (bulging) of part of the wall of the aorta, the body's largest artery. Thoracic aneurysms most often occur in the descending thoracic aorta. Others may appear in the ascending aorta or the aortic arch. The most common cause of a thoracic aortic aneurysm is hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis). Most patients have no symptoms until the aneurysm begins to leak or expand. Chest or back pain may mean sudden widening or leakage of the aneurysm.

Genetic Disorders

Marfan Syndrome and Loeys-Dietz- Syndrome are disorders of connective tissue, and are caused by defects in a gene that causes too much growth of the long bones of the body. These syndromes can affect the cardiovascular system because the aorta, the main blood vessel that takes blood from the heart to the body, may stretch or become weak (called aortic dilation or aortic aneurysm).